July 22, 2009 | By Fred von Lohmann

Apple Backs Down On Bluwiki Threats

Apple has retracted its legal threats against public wiki hosting site Bluwiki, and, in response, EFF is dismissing its lawsuit against Apple over those threats.

The skirmish involved a set of anonymously authored wiki pages in which hobbyists were discussing how to enable recent-vintage iPods and iPhones to "sync" media with software other than Apple's own iTunes (e.g., Songbird or Winamp). We're not talking about any "piracy" here; we're talking about syncing the media you legitimately own on the iPod or iPhone you own, using software of your choice.

In November 2008, Apple sent a series of legal threats to the operator of Bluwiki, alleging that these hobbyist discussions about interoperability violated the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions, even though the author(s) of the pages hadn't yet figured out how to accomplish their goal. So, according to Apple, even talking about reverse engineering for interoperability violates the DMCA! In a later letter, Apple also alleged that short excerpts of decompiled code on the pages infringed its copyrights, despite the fact that the code fragments related to a trivial function and comprised a tiny fraction of the iTunes software overall.

In response to Apple's legal threats, Bluwiki took down the wiki pages in question and sought legal assistance. In April 2009, EFF and the San Francisco law firm of Keker & Van Nest sued Apple on behalf of OdioWorks, which runs Bluwiki, asking a court to reject Apple's claims and allow Bluwiki to restore the discussions.

On July 8, 2009, Apple sent letter withdrawing its cease & desist demands and stating that "Apple no longer has, nor will it have in the future, any objection to the publication of the iTunesDB Pages."

While we are glad that Apple retracted its baseless legal threats, we are disappointed that it only came after 7 months of censorship and a lawsuit. Moreover, Apple continues to use technical measures to lock iPod Touch and iPhone owners into using Apple's iTunes software. And just last week, Apple used an update to iTunes as an excuse to lock the new Palm Pre smart phone out of using Apple's iTunes software. In light of these developments, you can be sure that perfectly legal efforts to reverse engineer Apple products will continue in order to foster interoperability. We hope Apple has learned its lesson here, and will give those online discussions a wide berth in the future.


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