updated 06:50 pm EDT, Mon April 27, 2009
Apple sued over DMCA test
Apple is in the middle of a new lawsuit that could test the limits of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The lawsuit was filed jointly by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and attorneys representing OdioWorks, the company that runs Bluwiki, a technology forum website that hosted iPodhash, which discussed use of open-source iPod technology. The lawsuit comes in response to Apple's demands that the iPodhash forum be closed because it violated the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions.
Lawyers in the new lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court/Northern District, CA, argue that the iPodhash discussions involved reverse-engineering software, as opposed to breaking copy protection. The lawyers are asking for a court ruling to clarify the matter. This case is unique in that Apple pressured the site to remove discussion about reverse engineering a product -- normally companies only pursue successful attempts where a physical product was reverse engineered.
Apple's November takedown letter resulted in the removal of three Web pages from the Bluwiki Web site that discussed a cryptographic function used by iTunes. Open-source developers have been trying to break cryptographic mechanisms used by iTunes since 2007, the year Apple first introduced a special operation, called a checksum hash, into its iPod line to confirm that Apple's devices were communicating with iTunes and not other software.
The original mechanism was reverse engineered, leading to Apple's late 2008 introduction of a new version of the technique with the iPod Touch and iPhone. The new technique was being discussed on iPodhash when Apple filed its takedown notice. The plaintiffs say that say iPodhash was trying to get the iPod and iPhone to work with Linux-based software as Apple doesn't ship a version of iTunes for Linux.
Apple claims the reverse engineering also threatens Apple's FairPlay copy-protection system, violating the DMCA. Odioworks founder counters that the iPodhash site was simply an effort to develop a way of using iPods and iPhones on Linux and other third-party software.