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Hacker's Poised To Beat Apple's Latest Version Of DRM (aka C.R.A.P.)

One of the hotter memes over the weekend had to do with a cease and desist letter that the ever-litigious Apple sent to the operators of the Hymn Project. For those looking to remove Apple's copy protection technology (officially "FairPlay," but I call it "C.R.A.P.") from iTunes Music Store (iTMS)-bought content, the Hymn Project has been the go-to site for utilities that have managed to stay one
One of the hotter memes over the weekend had to do with a cease and desist letter that the ever-litigious Apple sent to the operators of the Hymn Project. For those looking to remove Apple's copy protection technology (officially "FairPlay," but I call it "C.R.A.P.") from iTunes Music Store (iTMS)-bought content, the Hymn Project has been the go-to site for utilities that have managed to stay one step ahead of Apple in what has been a cat and mouse game.That cat n' mouse game has traditionally involved the companies (Apple, Microsoft, etc.) whose copy protection or Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies are theoretically designed to protect the rights of rights-holders (eg: the record labels) versus the consumers of that content, many of whom believe their own rights are being trampled in the course of trying to protect the rights of the aforementioned rights holders. Not helping matters are a smaller but prolific group of content pirates who have no rights at all to the content in question (in other words, they've never made a purchase), but who have played a significant role in the illegal proliferation of unauthorized and unlicensed content through file-sharing networks.

Despite trying, neither Apple nor Microsoft (the two main purveyors of DRM technology) have been able to keep outfits like the Hymn Project from defeating their latest technical measures designed to put an end to the cat n' mouse game.

One question that remains largely unanswered is "Why did Apple wait so long to use its legal options against the Hymn Project?" Over the weekend, several DRM and Apple-watchers speculated that the latest hack made available through the Hymn Project (known as "Requiem") pushed Apple over the edge because of the decryption techniques it used -- techniques that may have put Apple at a far more serious disadvantage in that cat n' mouse game that it has ever been.

Whatever its reasons were, Apple has officially put the operators of the Hymn Project on legal notice that it doesn't want to see linkage to any DRM-defeating utilities on the Hymn Project Web site anymore. According to the site's moderator:


Well, I'm guessing Apple did not like the requiem project that was posted in Technical as the site host received a C&D letter demanding that all downloads be removed from the site. Until further notice, no links are to be posted anywhere on the site to programs that can strip DRM from any of Apple's music or videos. Any user who does so will get the link removed and a warning from us. Any further infraction will get you banned permanently.

The sudden move by Apple comes at at unusual time in the long-term struggle that has involved technology companies, content companies, and content consumers. Sounding almost a bit like Ronald Reagan imploring Russian President Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," Steve Jobs, who has on one hand bent over backwards to prevent iTMS-bought content from being freely copied, implored the record-labels to make their content freely copyable (see Thoughts on Music by Steve Jobs). It was a move that left a lot of people wondering who the bad guys were.

Are the bad guys the record labels who, in the course of protecting their content from unscrupulous pirates, are forcing honest consumers to buy multiple copies of the same music just so they can enjoy it on more than one device (for example, on their iPods and in their cars)? Or are they the technology companies who benefit from DRM schemes because of the way they strong-arm consumers into buying one manufacturers' technology for as long as they want their investment in content to remain viable (in other words, for as long as they don't want to repurchase content they already own just so that content can be played back on a device that their current copies of that content are not compatible with).

What has always been interesting to me, with Apple, is how it has flexed its legal muscle against "ordinary" people in an effort to protect its interests. OK, so the people aren't ordinary. But, whereas most other technology companies worry about other corporate entities, no other technology company has the track record that Apple does when it comes to legally pursuing individuals from bloggers to hackers that have successfully marginalized (or threaten to marginalize) its trade secrets.

Apple is well within its right to exercise its legal options. In fact, it's the American way. If you want to sue your neighbor for wearing green clothing, you can. A judge may throw the case out before it gets too far. But the truth is that there's nothing that stops you, me, or Apple from sending a cease and desist letter to anybody we want for anything. And, there's nothing that stops you, me, or Apple from suing someone else for anything. The reason you and I don't sue our neighbors for wearing green clothing is that the suit's frivolity would prove the effort to be a waste of time.

Sooner or later, the same sort of frivolity will likely neuter Apple's legal options, too. Not because the cat n' mouse game is like trying to plug a leaky dam with 10 fingers. But, because Apple-the-cat's legal options aren't nearly as international as the mice it will eventually find itself chasing after.

A good example of this lies in Microsoft's valiant legal effort to combat spam. Microsoft should probably win an award for the way it has used its own legal resources to bring law-breaking spammers to justice. No other single company in the industry has matched its technological anti-spam investments with equal, if not greater, legal anti-spam investments. But even though Microsoft has helped to bring some of the most prolific spammers to justice, the majority of those spammers were operating in jurisdictions where Microsoft has sufficient influence. Unfortunately, the world is a big place, and just the same way the rising tide of spam is coming from locales in which Microsoft's lawyers are powerless, so, too, will the future hacks of DRM technology.

In other words, the mice will win.

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