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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Filed Under: dmca, drm, ipods
Companies: apple


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  1. identicon
    R. Miles, 17 Mar 2009 @ 4:31am

    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.

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