August 18, 2004 | By Fred von Lohmann

Hypocrite, Thy Name Is Real

In the latest development in the ongoing spat between RealNetworks and Apple over the iPod, RealNetworks has launched its Freedom of Music Choice campaign. "Consumers are getting a raw deal with the status quo in digital music, which limits healthy, open competition that drives down prices and encourages innovation," trumpets the campaign website.

Lovely sentiment. We couldn't agree more. But it's not as if Real is doing anything to change that status quo. After all, Real keeps its customers in DRM shackles that look pretty similar to Apple's FairPlay. In fact, Real's beef with Apple is really about keeping those shackles on its customers when they move songs to the iPod.

If Real actually cared about "Freedom of Music Choice," it would be telling its customers to burn the downloaded music they purchase to CD, then rip to any DRM-free format they like (including MP3, WAV, or AAC, all of which play just fine on the iPod). That's a much better option than being dragged into a feud between Apple and Real.

Meanwhile, Real's record for promoting the "healthy, open competition" made possible by reverse engineering for interoperability is less than inspiring. Consider, for example:

  • In the RealNetworks v. Streambox case, Real was among the first litigants to invoke the DMCA to squash a competitor trying to interoperate with Real's proprietary streaming software.
  • Real's own end-user licenses expressly forbid reverse engineering, even where that activity would be lawful as a fair use.
  • Real has been conspicuously silent when it comes to legislative reforms, like H.R. 107, that have been introduced to reform the DMCA to permit legitimate reverse engineering.

"RealNetworks has launched the 'Freedom of Music Choice' campaign to help consumers break the chains that tie their music devices to proprietary music downloads." Yeah, right.


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