Apple's DRM licensed to others by DVD Jon (and The Coded Smorgasbord)

Reverse engineer this! It's IT Blogwatch, in which "DVD Jon" turns his sights on Apple. Not to mention the pilot episode of The Coded Smorgasbord...

Liz Gannes knows the score:

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 ... 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.


DoubleTwist Ventures ... 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 ... 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 ... 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.


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.

Scott McNulty clarifies:

The iPod is the only device that is officially capable of playing FairPlay DRM'ed files, and the iTunes Store is the only store that sells FairPlay tracks and movies.

That is, until now. It seems that Jon wants to license his version of FairPlay to any company that might want to have their content play securely on an iPod. Now, he doesn't seem to think that this is illegal since he hasn't reverse engineered FairPlay. Instead, he created something new that acts just like it.

Jason Chen likens it to The Oldest Profession (if that picture is anything to go by): [you're fired -Ed.]

DVD Jon ... is offering it up for companies to purchase. Wha? Purchase?


Third party studios could make their movies iTV compatible without having to go through Apple licensing, and save a few bucks along the way.

Ryan Block muses on the historical parallels:

[Microsoft's] PlaysForSure [has] only about 10% of the digital music market. The other 90% goes to Apple's FairPlay DRM scheme, which is probably why over the years it's been such a massive target for such projects as Hymn, JHymn, PlayFair, PyMusique, myTunes and myFairTunes6, and the original FairPlay circumvention tool developed by DVD Jon et. al., QTFairUse, as well as FairKeys (which spawned the similar but not Jon-developed QTFairUse -- we missing any?)


Like Navio and Real before it, Jon ... [will be] cutting Apple out of the media vending food chain. Not a new concept at all, but when Real tried it, Apple were quick to put the kibosh on their efforts, and the impending possibility of a lawsuit was enough to eventually get them to stop fighting the man. As far as we know, Navio has neither been taken to court, nor actually licensed its artificial FairPlay technology to any partners. But for someone as high profile as Jon Johansen to move to the Bay and start up a business that undermines Apple's digital media sales business right in their own back yard, well, let's just say we're hoping DoubleTwist set aside some cash for possible legal expenses.

Grant Robertson waxes metaphorical:

DoubleTwist Ventures is selling something that lies in a questionably grey legal area but could be a very hot ticket: The ability to encode FairPlay yourself, thus opening Apple's "FairPlay" stranglehold on over 70% of the digital content market ... I can actually hear the ice melting under Jon's feet, although I think the splash is going to be a spectacle to watch.
Say G'day to Michael Kordahi:

From the little I understand about the DMCA, it’s illegal to reverse engineer a copy protection measure. So, I’m not sure what the outcome is gonna be here. Either way, I hope that Apple comes out under at the end of it all and the world becomes even more aware of the stupidity that is Apple's DRM model!
Paul Thurrott is dismissive:

It's unclear that the iPod could be even more popular, but I'd love to see Apple simply open up Fairplay to partners and competitors. Imagine a world in which iTunes-purchased content could be played on Media Center PCs or other non-Apple devices. As for licensing a reversed-engineered version of Fairplay, that's ludicrous. Apple will simply change Fairplay at some point and strand licensees. Obviously.

Slashdotters discuss:

Sassinak: sniff.. sniff. What's that smell.. Oh that's right.. a lawsuit. Hold on to your hats boys and girls, its going to get fun.

roseblood: How will it work here? A court says DVD JON stop it, that's apple technology they worked hard to make. A court says APPLE CHILL OUT, DVD JON is going to let other MP3 players play FAIRPLAY files and non-Ipod owners will spend their money on your iTunes store ... I predict lawsuits myself, the legal department will feel the need to get them going if only to prove to the bosses that they are doing productive work for the company.

Anonymous Coward: Does nobody remember the landmark Sony vs. Connectix case? A company can reverse engineer proprietary software and implement software that replicates functionality learned from said reverse engineering in their own devices in order to create compatibility between devices.

SanityInAnarchy: It looks like it's shaping up to be hilarious and fun to watch in the same way the ending of Dune was. You think you have me surrounded? Beaten? Then, out of nowhere: "If I am not obeyed, the spice will not flow."

daveschroeder: Is this what the people who would applaud DVD Jon actually want? More DRM, and DRM that won't be guaranteed to work (in fact, will almost be guaranteed to NOT work) the next time an update comes out from the vendor, at that?

Buffer overflow:

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And finally... The Coded Smorgasbord

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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