Latest iPod Suggests that Apple Still Loves DMCA-Assisted Lock-in

from the all-about-control dept

Back in January, we noted that despite Steve Jobs’s posturing on the music DRM front, Apple remains a big supporter and user of DRM and DRM-like schemes throughout their product lines. Over at the EFF blog, Fred von Lohmann suggests another potential example. The new iPod Shuffle has no buttons; the controls are on the included headphones. And if these folks are right (and there seem to be some doubts), the new shuffles won’t work with the remote controls of any existing third-party headphones because the iPod looks for a special “authentication chip” that so far is only embedded in the headphones Apple bundles with the shuffle. This would be irritating to me personally because I hate earbuds and so if I bought a shuffle the first thing I’d want to do is swap out the Apple-supplied earbuds with third-party headphones.

Fred suggests that the purpose of this “authentication chip” is to trigger liability under the DMCA if anyone tries to reverse-engineer the chip. That’s possible, but it’s far from clear that that’s what’s going on. We don’t know exactly what the chip does, but it seems unlikely that they’d embed enough computing power in the chip to do real crypto. And if there’s no crypto, it becomes harder—although certainly not impossible—to invoke the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions. Unfortunately, there’s so little case law on the DMCA’s anti-circumvention rules that we don’t really know how it would apply in a case like this. And that uncertainty may be all Apple needs to discourage third parties from building unauthorized accessories. b>Update: It looks like we were right to be skeptical about the DRM angle. Fred updates to point to a Boing Boing report that there’s no authentication in the new headphones. Which means that a DMCA claim probably wouldn’t apply to third-party headphone makers.

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Comments on “Latest iPod Suggests that Apple Still Loves DMCA-Assisted Lock-in”

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26 Comments
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: No DRM according to Mac Rumors

… which still raises the question of why it’s needed. The “made for iPod” explanation sounds very flimsy indeed – it’s usually pretty obvious whether or not you’re buying an official Apple product, and the “made for iPod” program was previously just a logo on packaging IIRC. I can’t see how a chip is going to protect users since they can only use it to find out if they’ve been duped *after* they’ve bought it and opened the packaging.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding something here, but I can’t see what a chip inside the headphones could achieve for this purpose without involving some kind of DRM.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: No DRM according to Mac Rumors

“I can’t see how a chip is going to protect users since they can only use it to find out if they’ve been duped *after* they’ve bought it and opened the packaging.”

You mean like the ‘Made for Vista’ fiasco didn’t protect users from buying underpowered machines that could not run Aero at all? That is all these stickers ever do, promote sales to users who cannot understand device specifications and instead rely on MARKETING (any approval sticker is a marketing driven tool). It will do exactly what it is intended to do — get people to buy Apple earbuds when they are not sure if anything else will work or not.

Marc says:

False.

Please get your facts straight.

The chip is to standardize the communications interface with the iPod. If you are a company and want to spend the time and money to recreate the functionality of the chip, you can.

There is no DRM or authentication. Read here for more: http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2009/03/third-party-headphones-do-require-apple-supplied-chip.ars

This kind of “journalism” really makes me question the integrity of Techdirt.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: False.

This kind of “journalism” really makes me question the integrity of Techdirt.

Hmm. So far, you accused us of saying stuff we did not. Claimed that we were practicing bad “journalism” when we don’t do journalism, and pointed to an Ars Technica piece to suggest we were wrong (though, it seems to support exactly what Tim said) And… Tim Lee, who wrote this post, also is a writer for Ars Technica.

What was your complaint about our integrity again?

Marc says:

Re: Re:

@KevinC

The chip is not “required” It’s the same story as all of the other “Made for iPod” accessories that work with the dock connector. If you want to reverse-engineer the chip and create your own, then you can. Apple provides the chip and licensing to third parties so that they don’t have to make their own, and to add a “Made for iPod” label that helps sell their product.

The point is: there is no authentication of DRM involved.

Kevin C. says:

Re: Re: Re:

@Marc
I think you are mistaken. I am not trying to be argumentative.

The article states, “Apple is requiring third-party headphone makers to include an Apple-supplied chip to add inline controls compatible with its latest iPod shuffle.” and the title is: “Third-party headphones do require Apple-supplied chip”.

You’ll notice that this article is a biased by the fact that they say, “Apple-supplied chip” as opposed to “chip purchased from apple”. (and other things)

No, I don’t believe it has anything to do with drm either. It is there to make sure that the shuffle will not operate without the chip in the headphones and for no other reason.

With regard to ‘if you want to reverse-engineer the chip and create your own, then you can’…this is also from the afore mentioned article: ‘”The ‘authentication chip’ is there so that Apple’s lawyers can invoke the DMCA to block [reverse engineering] efforts”‘
Best,
KevinC

Anonymous Coward says:

Easy to circumvent

It would simple enough (albeit inconvenient)to cut the wires going directly to the ear buds and swap in the wires from any other headphones, or an audio jack.

I bet the purpose of this is to prevent people playing music from their ipods to their cars or other systems without using yet another apple product.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hmmm… other blogs and web sites are reporting the the iPod Shuffle remote controls also work in all latest generation iPods (nano, Touch, and whatever the “standard” model is called these days) as well as recent Macbooks.

If that’s truly the case, then I don’t see what this has to do with DRM or the DMCA. It seems more like a design decision that takes advantage of existing technology to reduce the size of the device rather than anything else.

If you don”t like it, then don’t buy a Shuffle. There are plenty of non-Apple flash-based players available.

Rekrul says:

I don’t own an i-anything, much less an iPod, however I have to say that adding the controls to the earphones is probably one of the stupidest/sleaziest design decisions since Coleco put the power supply for the Adam computer in the printer. The earphones and/or the cord are the component that is most likely to wear out first, making the actual unit useless until you buy another overpriced set of earphones.

Of course, that’s the whole idea; To give people something that will wear out easily and need to be replaced, so that they can sell you another copy.

R. Miles says:

If no controls are on the device...

…wouldn’t it make sense these controls are added to the headphones instead?

Crap, I’m defending this bullshit company. >:(

I’m not an Apple fan, but wasn’t there a player that bombed because all it did was play without allowing user control?

I can see if this chip is a feature of controls, but I hardly doubt it could be used in a DRM set up.

Logistically, it would be damn near impossible to support DRM via the headphones and would certainly allow a much easy bypass to the software stored on the machine.

Come on, people. Think.

Personal note: If this chip is Apple’s way to ensure product quality, then customers should stand up and complain. But they won’t. Instead, they’ll continue buying the products while whining about the restrictions.

Serves each of them right for buying the product in the first place, especially in knowing about the chip. Idiots.

‘Nuff said.

lulz says:

Who the hell would buy a shuffle in the first place.. “hooray, I have very limited control of my music, and I can only hold a Gig! This seems like such a money-worthy product!”

This whole chip issue is irrelevant to me because I already have a 4th gen nano (was a gift).
It’s amazing anyone buys from such a proprietary/DRM driven company.

BTR1701 says:

Headphones

I have to say, I’d be pretty pissed if I bought one of these new iPods and found that I couldn’t use my Bose headphones with it. The sound quality of the Bose versus those annoying little earbuds is dramatic. Why the hell does Apple care whose headphones you’re using anyway? They’ve already gotten the money from the purchase of the iPod. They’re not losing anything if someone chooses to use a third-party set of headphones instead of the included earbuds.

SunKing says:

Brilliant !

Haha, this is brilliant. It’s like some kind of limit testing to see how much the fanbois will swallow. You think they’d go for a player that forces you to use certain earphones? Course they will! Just slap an apple on it and they’ll be frothing at the mouth. It will act like a social marker for the brainless, so you can spot them easier in crowds.

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