Under The Microscope

DRM In The New iPod Shuffle

The EFF’s Fred von Lohmann, on the new iPod Shuffle and its horrendous headphone-related DRM:

“Normally, of course, independent headphone makers could simply reverse engineer the interface. The “authentication chip” is there so that Apple’s lawyers can invoke the DMCA to block those efforts. So this shows us, yet again, what DRM is for — not stopping piracy, but rather impeding competition and innovation.”

Sometimes companies can claim that their DRM has a valid purpose. But this is just pathetic, and really serves to illustrate exactly what’s wrong with the DMCA.

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8 Responses to “DRM In The New iPod Shuffle”

  1. Dave M. says:

    I’m sorry, but how the heck is putting a chip in a pair of headphones “impeding competition and innovation”? How is this chip stopping Microsoft from coming up with their own version of an MP3 player that doesn’t have a display or buttons and tells the listener what song they are listening to?

    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not all that happy with Apple doing this. If I had a favorite pair of headphones, I wouldn’t be able to buy this iPod Shuffle since the headphones would not work with the player.

    Plus, if you don’t like what Apple did with the player, then show them by *not buying the Shuffle*. Not really a hard call here.

    So please, explain why the EFF needs to get involved with this. Thanks.

  2. Adam says:

    “How is this chip stopping Microsoft from…”

    I don’t think it’s supposed to impede competition with other portable music player makers. But it will thwart headphone makers. First, as you said, people won’t be able to use their favorite pair of headphones with the new iPod shuffle. Now this is when things really get “interesting.” Headphone makers won’t be able to sell new ones if they don’t play ball with Apple. The company probably has a licensing program, and accessory makers will have to pay a fee. Otherwise, the authentication chip will lock them out of the market. Lastly, as explained by the EFF, if they try to reverse engineer this stuff, Apple can invoke the DMCA to prevent them from interoperating with the new iPod shuffle.

    This sort of stuff is already happening.


    « Already, the DMCA has seeped into the market for printer cartridges and garage door openers. Printer maker Lexmark International and automatic garage door maker Skylink successfully have wielded the DMCA to ward off competitors who wanted to develop toners and garage door openers that would interoperate with their products. In both cases, the companies claimed that the competitors broke their protection measures. »

  3. Zr40 says:

    “The best way to destroy [a law] is to follow it exactly.”

  4. flo says:

    @Dave M: As I see it you totally miss the point. It’s not about another music player producer not being able to copy this, but about headphone makers having to pay up to apple first, just so they can sell headphones for the shuffle. This in my opinion is wrong, especially as there is nothing inherently “new” in the tech used to make the “headphone remote” work.

  5. waffffffle says:

    Is there any proof of this chip? They only cite an iLounge review. iLounge does not cite any source for this information.

    Apple uses authentication chips for video output via the dock but has not previously done the same for headphones. There isn’t much room to include silicon inside of earbuds and I highly doubt this is true. Considering that there are already third party headphones that include a microphone and button for the iPhone, I doubt that there will be a licensing barrier to working with the new shuffle.

    Until someone documents this I won’t believe it.

  6. Adam says:

    “Is there any proof of this chip?”

    Apple have been using those for some time now, as amply demonstrated.


  7. flo says:

    @waffffle I think it’s fairly obvious that this has already been used for some time now for other “accessories” only there it made at least somewhat sense in my opinion, but for headphones, I really think it would be better if they avoided it.
    The proof of the chip? How else do iPods know if they’re compatible (or what apple deems “compatible”) with an accessorie and then either tell you about it and work somewhat, or well, don’t work, although you should think at least. just pipeing through the audio shouldn’t be a problem (and at least in some cases isn’t althought the device complains) and it’s also why the iphone doesn’t work with many accessories that work with the ipod touch, which is the most annoying thing ever.

  8. Dave M. says:

    @flo: Actually, I didn’t miss the point. The EFF jumped the gun (as usual) and claimed the chip to be DRM when in fact it is not. Apple claims it’s in there to allow branding the accessories to be made as “made for iPod”. Sounds a little Microsoftian to me.

    My point is that I haven’t trusted the EFF for quite some time. They claim to be “pro” consumer, but the stuff I have seen them going after makes me feel that they have ulterior motives.

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