Apple and Real combat via the media

A PR war with no sign of ending anytime soon has broken out between Apple and RealNetworks.

A PR war with no sign of ending anytime soon has broken out between Apple and RealNetworks.

On Monday, Real announced its new Harmony software, which allows consumers to convert their music downloads into formats recognized on the iPod, as well as Windows Media DRM and Helix DRM devices. Real made the technology available to the public in Beta form on Tuesday.

Most music purchased legally online is encoded to deter piracy. Apple uses such a software in the iPod to keep it from working with any other kinds of copy-protected formats. Real's Harmony circumvents this barrier by altering music to Apple's format.

Apple's first response was through a statement released Thursday morning, blasting Harmony. "We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod, and we are investigating the implications of their actions under the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] and other laws,"it said.

Matt Graves, senior PR manager for music at Real, said the Apple statement had "baseless allegations." The company responded with its own statement hours later. Its AOR, SutherlandGold Communications, has been instrumental in getting the message out, Graves said.

"Where we have to defend consumers' rights, we're happy to do that in the press or the court of law," he added.

Graves said Real contacted Apple to inform it about the technology being made available last Friday, before Harmony came out. "We did not hear back," he said.

Real also never heard from Apple once the beta software was released on Tuesday, he said.

Rather than focus on the question of the software's legality (which Real obviously thinks is legal), the company is focusing its communications efforts on being the consumer's advocate.

"We're saying, 'In our opinion, [consumers] deserve the right to choose what and what doesn't going on their iPod,' " Graves said. "If you buy a Dell computer, do you think that Dell has the right to tell you what software you can put on there?"

In a statement, Napster's president and CEO Chris Gorog said, "We applaud Real's efforts to fix the iPod's incompatibility problems."

However, most of Friday's stories involved the legality of the situation.

C-Net News had, as its top story, a lengthy story entitled, "Is Real's iPod 'hacking' legal?" VNUNet.com's story was entitled "Real slams Apple's iPod 'hacker' attack."

Apple did not respond by press time.

RealNetworks' technology is available via download with its free media player, RealPlayer 10.5. The company plans to provide the technology for its online music service Rhapsody as well. Graves said Real has no plans to make its own portable music player.

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