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DVD Jon Fairplays Apple

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dvd jon by irina slutskyDRM-buster DVD Jon has a new target in his sights, and it’s a big piece of fruit. He has reverse-engineered Apple’s Fairplay and is starting to license it to companies who want their media to play on Apple’s devices. Instead of breaking the DRM (something he’s already done), Jon has replicated it, and wants to license the technology to companies that want their content (music, movies, whatever) to play on Apple devices. This may not be good news for iTunes the store, but it could make the iPod even more popular.

Jon Lech Johansen became famous for hacking encrypted DVDs so they would play in Linux when he was 15, making him the target of criminal charges for which he was eventually acquitted. Last year he moved from Norway to San Diego to work for Michael Robertson. But the work — a digital locker for music — didn’t captivate Johansen, so he struck out on his own at the beginning of the summer.

Twenty-two-year-old Johansen moved to San Francisco to work with Monique Farantzos, who had contacted him after reading a Wall Street Journal profile of him last fall. The two now live in the Mission District and devote their time to DoubleTwist Ventures, which is Johansen’s first major attempt at commercializing his hacking. They haven’t raised any outside money because they have already found at least one (undisclosed) paying customer.

Johansen isn’t much of a swashbuckler; he barely touched his Heineken when we were out at drinks last week. But he has a lot of chutzpah, and related the story of how he emailed Steve Jobs and set up a lunch meeting in January.

Johansen and Farantzos went down to Cupertino for an audience with King Jobs, but weren’t terribly specific about their new company’s plans (to be fair, at this point, they didn’t quite know what their plans were). Jobs apparently warned that while Apple was not a litigious company, other tech firms might not take kindly to whatever DVD Jon might be up to. Ha!

Johansen doesn’t think what he’s doing is illegal; he’s adding DRM rather than breaking it. He and Farantzos were giddy about the prospect of Apple’s iTV, hoping companies will pay up to get movies on the set-top box when it comes out, after seeing the ill effects of being shut off the iPod. Spurned by Apple? Step right up.

This is a different twist on the constant battle between DRM crackers and builders (see, just last week, Microsoft’s lawsuit against a hacker for releasing an app that strips off its PlaysForSure DRM). If successful, DoubleTwist will eliminate Apple as a middleman to its own hardware. But in doing so, it just might help Apple sell more of that hardware. Apple enjoys fat margins on its devices, and perhaps should turn a blind eye, for now.

We won’t be crossing our fingers for Jobs to keep his non-litigious promise, though.

Photo of DVD Jon by Irina Slutsky

68 Responses to “DVD Jon Fairplays Apple”

  1. Are the 13 (!) instances of pingbacks, flashbacks, and whatnot really necessary?

    I cam here to read the real comments, not page through tech sites high-fivin’ each other in the comments column.


  2. arheddis varkenjaab

    slutksy is hilarious! is anyone here familiar with how to install aol 8.0 on their computers?
    i need to make sure my computer does not run java.

  3. I met Jon at FooCamp a few weeks ago and he told me he’s employed by DoubleTwist, though he didn’t go into details about what they do. I’m assuming he’s not a founder.

  4. The legal question over Fairplay is just one issue. Apple doesn’t have any issued patents on Fairplay per se so it is possible Doubletwist could license a compatible implementation to others.

    But there is another legal issue being overlooked here. How can a Norwegian citizen legally move to the US and start their own venture? He might have come over here on an H1B initially for his earlier job but that wouldn’t cover his new venture. He would have had to refile. The USCIS generally won’t approve H1’s for brand new startups with no cash. Is it possible that DVD Jon is now a gasp illegal immigrant!?

  5. How long do you guys thing Apple is going to get away with building a monopoly in entertainment backed by technology. 3 more years? 5 more years? 10 more years?

    DVD Jon is working on technology that will be direly needed when society understands that it is not in their best interests to create these kind of monopolies (another Microsoft?).

    Now when this happens, and consumers really start voting with their money. DVD Jon will be there to reap the hay with his technology.

  6. It strikes me that patent infringement is he only way Apple could pursue this in the courts.
    As several other commentators have pointed out, DVD Jon isn’t circumventing DRM, he’s adding it to allow non-Apple files to be compatible with the iPod while still retaining DRM. If Apple were to challenge the notion that other companies could sell DRM-encoded files for the iPod, they might be opening up that can of iTunes+iPod anti-trust worms that they’ve been skillfully avoiding up to this point.
    But to challenge DoubleTwist’s licensing of a technology that Apple owns, well that might just be the simplest route, assuming the FairPlay patent is robust enough to take on DVD Jon’s ‘re-interpretation’ of it.

  7. Chris,

    Jon is not circumventing Fairplay DRM on existing content, he’s allowing new content to be protected in a manner that is compatible with Apple’s Fairplay’s DRM. He’s adding protection, not removing it.

    Until now, only Apple has been able to protect content with Fairplay. By ‘cracking’ Fairplay,, anyone who licensees Jon’s technology can create protected content that plays on iPods, iTV, etc.

  8. Uh, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act does apply. I don’t like the DMCA, but DVD Jon is clearly violating the DMCA. The Apple implementation of the Fairplay codec is a technological protective measure (TPM) and mere circumvention of a protected work is a violation.

    Sec. 1201(a)(1)(A) Circumvention of copyright protection systems. Violations Regarding Circumvention of Technological Measures.
    (A) No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.
    (A) to ”circumvent a technological measure” means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner; and
    (B) a technological measure ”effectively controls access to a work” if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work.

    DVD Jon also also cannot license the “crack” since he does not have any rights under copyright law to grant. He does not have the right to distribute, publicly display, copy, destroy, sell, etc.

    We need to change the laws instead of risk breaking them. Check out, and

  9. dukevim

    Seems the bright move to me, stop fscking around and make shit happen. The past still has somet’ing to give.

    Good luck to him, open the itunes DRM, not so good for Apple, but better for the world, better than Windows Media Player at least.

    Sell talent not technology.

  10. mike perry said:
    I can think of one use for this. Seattle’s Public Library loans audio recordings of in-copyright books to Windows users to play on their PC, which isn’t that useful. But this software could let the library also loan audio books that Mac and Windows users could play on their iPods without breaking the DRM for the audio books.

    SPL uses the expiration feature. There is no such feature in Fairplay and doubtfully in this clone of it.

  11. I agree with the last poster. If the Apple patent lawyers did their job right, they would have covered any and every reverse engineering angle, I predict an early demise for this DRM. No device maker will license it without complete indemnification against lawsuits.

  12. I am guessing that this is a patent infringement which could have severe financial penalties, as reverse engineering and then selling a patent protected “invention” is completely illegal. I foresee lawyers in the intellectual property and patent law fields becoming rich and yet another tech genuis being ruined. Why hasn’t this guy gone and and got himself a nice six figure career?

  13. I can think of one use for this. Seattle’s Public Library loans audio recordings of in-copyright books to Windows users to play on their PC, which isn’t that useful. But this software could let the library also loan audio books that Mac and Windows users could play on their iPods without breaking the DRM for the audio books.

  14. Does anyone have any links to any sites which explain or talk about why DVD Jon stopped working for Michael Robertson? I had assumed they were still working together.

  15. “…he barely touched his Heineken when we were out at drinks last week…”

    The next time, try buying him some very good French wine. He loves that. Give him a 2002 Meursault Francois Jobard En la Barre, and he’ll be happy.

  16. There is no question that DVD Jon is a technical Genius – But he’s a really dumb business man if he thinks this is going to fly… and so is Monique F whom I would have thought was smarter. I wonder if they will offer a guarantee that they can keep up with Apple’s code reactions to this.

  17. Surely thisll break when Apple do an update, leaving all the customers of these ‘licensed’ companies with unplayable media until an update (if possible) is made available. You wouldnt see me buying any media from those companies.

    Also, what EXACTLY is stopping these companies selling their media to work on the iPod as it is? The article makes the iPod sound as if it will only play DRMd files. Just sell MP3s or MP4 movies and theyll play on the iPod.

    This sounds like a very dubious business idea to me.

  18. pwb,

    you gotta be kidding me. this is fresh news, which we are bringing to you and other readers. for me that is journalism. analysis has its place, and we do that as well. read this for what it is – news.

  19. The journalism here is a bit weak. Anay analysis on the commercial viability of such an endeavour? This seems wildly speculative: “If successful, DoubleTwist will eliminate Apple as a middleman to its own hardware.”