Apple Backs Down in Syncing Lawsuit

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Days after releasing an update to iTunes that blocked the Palm Pre from syncing, Apple has ended another dispute concerning iTunes, this time by settling.

Last November, Apple began issuing cease-and-desist letters to Odioworks, which runs Bluwiki, a public wiki. In this case, people were publishing decompiled code from iTunesDB, the library file that stores music and playlist information for an iTunes user. The goal was simple: Make Apple devices interoperable with other media applications, like Songbird.

Apple asserted this was a violation of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions, raising the possibility of legal action. In response, Bluwiki took down the pages and sought legal assistance. The Electronic Frontier Foundation took the case and Odioworks v. Apple was born.

Today, it died, though what ultimately killed the lawsuit is up for debate. If you believe Apple’s letter (PDF), it was because the technology was rendered moot. Apple had “stopped utilizing the code in question,” thus publishing the code was “no longer of any harm or benefit to anyone.” A less charitable interpretation might be that Apple’s legal maneuverings had successfully prevented open discussion, at least at Bluwiki, until changes were made to iTunes.

The problem is that what Apple did was wrong. The DMCA explicitly allows reverse engineering for “analyzing those elements of the programs that are necessary to achieve interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs.” It’s anti-competitive behavior like this that makes appropriate action like stopping the Pre hack seem less so.

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