May 26, 2024

NYT Chimes in on the Real/Apple Issue

Today’s New York Times contains an odd unsigned editorial commenting on the recent dispute between Real and Apple. The piece tries to take Apple’s side, but can’t really find a good reason to do so. In the end, it reaches the unsurprising conclusion that Real is trying to make money.

The piece seems to misunderstand the law.

In late July, RealNetworks introduced a software called Harmony, which allows its music to be played on an iPod. In other words, RealNetworks mimics Apple’s software without licensing it. Litigation will surely ensue.

But mimicking the function of somebody else’s code, without copying the code itself, is perfectly legal, for good policy reasons.

In the end, the piece accuses Real of making truthful but self-serving statements:

It would be better for consumers if Apple began licensing its digital rights management software, only because the iTunes Music Store will not be able to lock up access to all the copyrighted music in the world. But RealNetworks’ contention that Apple is stifling freedom of choice is self-serving.

In other words, Real is right, but they chose to speak the truth, rather than remaining silent, for self-serving reasons. It seems odd, to me at least, to criticize a corporation, which after all is a profit-seeking entity, for trying to maximize its profit while respecting the ethical requirement to tell the truth.

It looks to me like both Real and Apple are behaving rationally within the rules, at least so far. I don’t understand why Mac chauvinists feel a need to take sides on this issue. Real and Apple are competing, and consumers benefit from competition.


  1. Aaron: The problem with Microsoft was a *lack* of competition, and Microsoft’s unlawful efforts to suppress competition.

  2. Real may be (ie., IS) a loutish, annoying, customer-unfriendly company, but in this case they’re right. It’s not so much that a broken clock is right once a day — Real is more like a tearoff calendar with only one page, and sooner or later that page is correct. Mark this one down; they’re not likely to repeat this feat for some years. 🙂

  3. I’m surprised no one focuses on the obvious — Real *doesn’t* make any money selling music for iPods. It is estimated that they lose money on every sale and they warned in their quarterly that they lose more money as volume increases.

    So, who cares what they do? If you hate Real then go buy another iPod, but also buy more music from Real to put on your iPod. And if Real tries to raise the price to a profitable point, then switch to another vendor.

    Real will never be able to profitably sell music for your iPod cheaper than Apple as long as Apple has the profit advantage on an iPod.

  4. (This is not to say I’m one of them. I agree that neither company is “in the wrong” here.)

  5. “consumers benefit from competition.”

    Maybe the “Mac chauvinists” have been around Microsoft long enough to understand the oversimplification that is.

  6. “Fair is fair. It’s Apple’s technology and they can do with it as they wish”

    Umm, how about “It’s my iPod, I can do with it what I wish.”? If that includes Harmony, then so be it.

    Yes, Real is trying to make money, and yes their stuff includes DRM as well, and yes they don’t have a good track record.

    But the central issue here IS NOT Real vs Apple. The central issue here is the consumer’s ability to use a device they purchased how the choose to (with or without Harmony.)

    To bring up the overused car analogy, do you agree with: “It’s Honda/GM/etc’s technology, they can do with it as they wish, including requiring that any and all service be done at their dealerships, gas be purchased at their stations, and towing be done by their companies.”
    (In one case, the analogy is very real on it’s own, the service at dealership requirement is becoming a concern.)

  7. Paul: You’re right, Real’s actions don’t benefit Apple. But so what? When McDonalds opens a restaurant and sells hamburgers, this doesn’t benefit Burger King. But that fact, by itself, doesn’t make McDonalds’ actions illegal or improper. You may not like Real (and we all know that Real hasn’t been the most customer-friendly company), but I don’t see any reason to object to what they’re doing in this instance.

    Richard: You say “It’s Apple’s technology and they can do with it as they wish.” Fair enough. But why can’t Real do what they want with their own technology, including making it work with Apple’s? The question is not whether Apple should be forced to grant a licence to Real — clearly they shouldn’t. The real question is why Real should need a license to do anything it has done in this tussle.

    I don’t see why we have to find one company or the other to be “in the wrong”. Each company is trying to sell its own products. That’s the way things are supposed to work.

  8. I’m sorry. “Mac whatnow?”. Get real, or rather, get Real – OUT. They want to do battle with Apple, they should compete, not disparage. I don’t care where the music comes from or how it’s played, but I do care about hypocritical marketing tactics from spyware-producing Real, who are in no position to be whining about not being allowed access to FairPlay given their past behaviour.

    Fair is fair. It’s Apple’s technology and they can do with it as they wish – Macrovision have licensed it. Apple just don’t want to deal with Real, and who can blame them.

    Real are in the wrong here. Their iPod slagging and pathethic ‘freedom of music choice’ psuedo-campaign (you can’t even comment on it – what’s up Real, can’t take the bad publicity?) in the form of some activist stance on DRM is a joke, and a bad one at that.

  9. Real also breaks your iPod functionality once you insteal Real Player 10 because of this. I had to reinstall iTunes to get it to see my iPod because Real had tried to hijack it.

  10. Jordan Vance says

    I think one mistake you make here is saying that allowing more music to be played on the iPod doesn’t benefit Apple. It does. If Real goes out and makes a deal with Creative for Nomad compatibility, and at the same time their store gained popularity, Apple would find themselves on the short end of the proverbial stick. DRM does suck, but it attempts something that the record labels like, as do most companies: protecting the investment. Sure, it may not do a great job, but we can’t expect the record labels to expect people to buy mp3’s (or whatever non-DRMed format you choose) and not share them. Yes, most DRM is ineffective, but if it makes 10 out of 100 people buy their music instead of 1 out of 100, then to the record labels, whatever music gets sold online better have DRM. Furthermore, let’s say someone decides to use Real’s store only. They can still buy and iPod and use it. This isn’t the iPod’s problem, it’s Apple’s music store’s.

    Maybe someone can point out the obvious answer to me, but why shouldn’t DRM of some sort exist? It’s not like this is an incredibly new idea (remember the copy protection schemes of early games, i.e. wheels that you had to turn and enter the number that was exposed?). Yeah, they were a pain in the ass, and if you lost them, you couldn’t play the game, but a lot of people got around them (I know). But I don’t remember all that many people complaining. sure, you may not get to make as many copies of DRM music that you want to, but that’s a problem with the implementation, not the idea.


  11. I dunno which “Mac chauvinists” you’re referring to. However, I think the reason people in general are taking sides is because this IS a case of Apple vs. Real – Real wanted to license Fairplay, Apple wasn’t interested, for whatever reason you choose (it doesn’t benefit them financially, for one). Real attempted to call Apple out in public. No dice. Real “hacked” the iPod (legal or not, they certainly didn’t go through Apple, and went against Apple’s wishes), and now they want to claim “freedom of choice”.

    What most articles seem to forget is that the iPod already supports MP3. It’s not as if it ONLY reads iTunes Music Store files – it reads, and always has read MP3 files. Nice, good old-fashioned, DRM free, MP3 files. There’s your freedom – freedom to use yet another DRM-encrypted format is hardly freedom.

    So, Real wants to spread their own form of DRM – this doesn’t benefit Apple. Real wants to sell more music files by support the iPod – no benefit to Apple there either. Real’s public statements are slanted truths, and as this somewhat poorly written editorial indicates, they’re self-serving. Providing only some of the truth doesn’t mean you’re lying, but it if it’s self-serving, it’s not exactly honest either. How about this – they want to offer listeners freedom of choice, to purchase songs from them. Hey, great. And they’ve even dropped their prices to 49 cents for a little while. Oh, but whups, if you’re on a Mac, you can’t buy from them. Where’s the freedom of choice in that?

    As well, these are two companies with existing reputations. Apple’s is generally pretty good, they’re a well-known brand, they make good machines, and they own the digital music world for now, with the iPod and iTunes Music Store. Real’s is generally pretty bad – they’ve made what has long been considered to be an inferior product, and at various times have included spyware with the software, and made the free version incredibly difficult to find, while the pay version was one click away. Given that, I don’t think it’s hard to see why people would take sides here.