Apple fights RealNetworks' 'hacker tactics'

Apple Computer has quietly updated its iPod software so that songs purchased from RealNetworks' online music store will no longer play on some of the Mac maker's popular MP3 players.

The move could render tunes purchased by many iPod owners unplayable on their music players. For the last four months, RealNetworks has marketed its music store as the only Apple rival compatible with the iPod, following the company's discovery of a way to let its customers play their downloaded tunes on Apple's MP3 player. Apple criticized RealNetworks' workaround, dubbed Harmony, as the "tactics...of a hacker," and warned in July that RealNetworks-purchased songs would likely "cease to work with current and future iPods."

Apple offered no further statement Tuesday, but confirmed that the software released with its Photo iPod will not play music purchased from RealNetworks' music store. The high-tech feud may be as grounded in public relations as it is in genuine technology development, but it highlights what remains a serious issue in the digital music business. Unlike CDs, songs sold by competing online stores are often not directly compatible with different brands of MP3 players. Songs purchased from Apple's iTunes store can only be played directly on an Apple iPod, while songs purchased from Napster or MSN Music can only be played directly on a device that supports Microsoft's audio format, for example.

News source: C|Net News.com

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