Apple Drops Legal Threat Against BluWiki

Apple formally drops its legal complaint against OdioWorks, which runs BluWiki, a site Apple charged violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by posting a discussion on how to make iPhones and iPods run using a digital media application other than iTunes.

Computer maker Apple has dropped its complaint against OdioWorks, the company that owns BluWiki, a site that hosted a discussion on how users can reconfigure their iPhones and iPods to work with digital media players other than Apple's proprietary iTunes application. The annoucement was made by the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Apple filed a cease-and-desist notice (the EFF termed it "a series of legal threats") in November 2008 after the site, which is regularly used to share information between users, moved the topic to Apple's music playback software. Apple cited a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright At (DMCA), which criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works.

After receiving the letter, OdioWorks followed Apple's request but also alerted the EFF. The EFF filed suit against Apple to defend the First Amendment rights of an operator of a noncommercial, public Internet "wiki" site-in this case OdioWorks' BluWiki. "Like many "wiki" platforms, such as Wikipedia, it is open to the public for collaborative authoring and editing on any topic," the lawsuit charged, noting that the site is entirely noncommercial, operated by OdioWorks as a public service.

"In November 2008, Apple sent a series of legal threats to the operator of BluWiki, alleging that these hobbyist discussions about interoperability violated the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions, even though the author(s) of the pages hadn't yet figured out how to accomplish their goal," wrote EFF senior staff lawyer Fred von Lohmann. "So, according to Apple, even talking about reverse engineering for interoperability violates the DMCA! In a later letter, Apple also alleged that short excerpts of decompiled code on the pages infringed its copyrights, despite the fact that the code fragments related to a trivial function and comprised a tiny fraction of the iTunes software overall."

Lohmann said any indication that the site was involved in piracy is false. "We're not talking about any "piracy" here," wrote von Lohmann. "We're talking about syncing the media you legitimately own on the iPod or iPhone you own, using software of your choice." In response to Apple's retraction of the complaint, EFF decided to dismiss the lawsuit it filed against Apple on behalf of OdioWorks.

In the letter sent by Apple's attorney to the EFF on July 8, Said Huseny of law firm Latham & Watkins, Huseny charged the complaint arose over the publication of certain Apple code. "Since that time, Apple has stopped utilizing the code in question, rendering the code obsolete for the purposes at issue in this action," Huseny wrote. "Publishing that code is no longer of any harm or benefit to anyone."

Von Lohmann said that while the EFF is glad that Apple retracted its "baseless legal threats", he is "disappointed" that it only came after seven months of censorship and a lawsuit. "In light of these developments, you can be sure that perfectly legal efforts to reverse engineer Apple products will continue in order to foster interoperability," he wrote. "We hope Apple has learned its lesson here, and will give those online discussions a wide berth in the future."