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Apple: Burn DVDs--and we'll burn you

The company's lawyers send a stiff warning to a Mac dealer, warning that a patch to its iDVD burning software runs afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

WASHINGTON--Apple Computer has invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to prevent its customers from burning DVDs on external drives.

Earlier this month, the company's lawyers sent a stiff warning to an Apple dealer, warning that a patch to Apple's iDVD burning software ran afoul of the controversial 1998 copyright law.

"They alleged it violated Apple's intellectual property and the DMCA act," said Larry O'Connor, president of Other World Computing, a Macintosh dealer.

O'Connor said his company values its close relationship with Apple--it's been a dealer since 1988--and backed down immediately. "No. 1, we don't want to get into a fight with Apple," O'Connor said Wednesday. "No. 2, we're an Apple certified developer. We're not out there to offend Apple."

At issue in the legal threat is Apple's well-received iDVD application, which permits users to burn DVDs only on internal drives manufactured by Apple. In unmodified form, it does not permit writing to external drives manufactured by third parties.

That means Macintosh owners with older computers or laptop computers, or people who opted not to buy the "Superdrive"-equipped Macs, could not use iDVD to save movies.

In response, Other World Computing began bundling a product called DVD Enabler with its external Mercury Pro DVD-R/RW FireWire drive. DVD Enabler modified iDVD so the application would save completed DVDs to a FireWire-connected drive.

A press release from Other World Computing dated Aug. 12 said the company "will no longer market its DVD Enabler software, effective immediately."

The DMCA, which took effect two years ago, limits selling software that "is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner."

Matt Deatherage, a former Apple employee who edits a daily Macintosh newsletter, said Apple's legal threat reflects the company's underlying business strategy: If iDVD is useful only on internal drives, people may buy more computers.

"I think it's one of those areas where Apple has decided it's an advantage to have iDVD on new machines and they don't want it available as an upgrade kit," Deatherage said. "Apple's basic job is to sell new machines. Hardware is 85 percent to 90 percent of Apple's revenue each quarter."

Other World Computing's O'Connor said he believes Apple made a bad decision. But, he said, "there was no ill will. We thought we were doing something good and hoped they would agree."

Apple does sell an iDVD upgrade on its site for $20, but it lists as a requirement a Macintosh equipped with an internal DVD-RW drive.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.