November 09, 2004

Eat Shit and Die?

When Cory Doctorow lashed out over Apple’s disabling a third party iPod song copying plugin in iTunes 4.7, I decided to be prudent and bite my tongue, even though, as the author of a similar product, I naturally have an opinion about the matter. But sitting in Adam Curry’s Podcasting session at Bloggercon today, and listening to suggestions that Apple might somehow move to shut down podcasting, followed by a litany of grave “don’t trust Apple” warnings, I felt my blood pressure rising again and knew I wouldn’t be able to keep quiet. Unfortunately, time ran out before I could comment in the session, so I’m going to ignore my better judgement and post my comments here (the usual disclaimer applies: completely my opinions, not my employer’s).

As I see it, there are two problems with the suggestion that Apple might shut down podcasting. First, the only realistic way for Apple to stand in the way of an app like iPodder would be to shut down iTunes’ AppleScript interface and/or remove iPod support for open formats like MP3 (which someone in the session seriously suggested they might). The latter would amount to commercial suicide (witness Sony’s unfortunate experiment with an ATRAC only audio player), and the former would be unlikely because there are Apple products that rely on iTunes AppleScript (e.g. GarageBand). Second, it assumes Apple would have any reason to even care about how people get content for their iPod outside of Apple’s own applications.

And this brings me back to my criticism of Cory Doctorow’s screed, which is that he is missing an important point about the nature of the iPodDownload plugin that iTunes 4.7 disabled: it operates within iTunes. It essentially modifies iTunes itself so that it can be used to circumvent iTunes’ “no copying from the iPod” policy (it also violates Apple’s stated iTunes plugin license). By contrast, my own, standalone application, PodWorks, has been around for almost two years now, and has never been challenged by Apple (even though Apple could easily have made life difficult for me by constantly changing the database format, or encrypting it, sicking the lawyers on me, or things like that). Because PodWorks is a standalone application that has nothing to do with Apple, Apple just doesn’t have any reason to be concerned about it.

In my estimation, what it all comes down to is this: Apple is still walking a fine line between giving consumers what they deserve and giving the record companies what they want. In order to continue striking this balance, Apple must avoid any appearance that it is facilitating intellectual property theft, and thus must prevent its music platform from becoming a direct accessory to piracy. I don’t think anyone at Apple has the anti-consumer agenda that Doctorow suggests (“eat shit and die!”). If someone actually did, I can assure that PodWorks, at least, would have disappeared a long time ago.