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PlayFair Born Again As Hymn, Back Online

PlayFair Born Again As Hymn, Back Online

by , 1:00 PM EDT, May 11th, 2004

For those who have been following the battle between PlayFair, the software that will strip Apple's DRM from iTunes Music Store downloads, and Apple, there's a new development. The story began a few months ago when PlayFair was first released. Apple quickly sent a Cease & Desist to SourceForge.net, the project's home, demanding that PlayFair's site be taken down. The company did so based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Law, which prohibits software that circumvents Digital Rights Management schemes.

PlayFair then moved to India, where copyright laws are different. Apple's Indian arm sent a Cease & Desist to the Indian host, which once again pulled the site. PlayFair, however, is back once again, still in India, with a new Indian host, a new Indian owner for the project, and legal support from the Free Software Foundation of India. The project also has a new name, Hymn, which replaces the PlayFair moniker. From Hymn's Web site:

We are back online, with a new release and a new name! It's been a long, hard battle, but we are back online. Anand Babu has taken official ownership of the project. FSF India is providing legal support.

The 0.6.0 release is pretty much a complete rewrite. There are no longer any non-GPL dependencies (the mp4v2 library was MPL and, thus, incompatible with the GPL). In fact, the MPEG-4 parsing is now home-grown and much more specific. Since we're no longer using the mp4v2 library to copy the meta data from the protected AAC file, it is left fully intact, including the apple ID of the user who bought the song. This proves that our purpose is for fair use and not for "piracy" and should help us in our legal battles.

We also noted this rather interesting note in the project's PDF manual that accompanies the Mac OS X binary:

First of all, I buy all of my music. In fact, most of the music I buy these days comes from the iTunes Music Store. However, I want to be able to play the music I buy wherever I want to play it without quality loss, since I PAID FOR that quality. I want musicians to make money. I want Apple to make money. I don't condone sharing music through P2P networks with the masses, though I believe making a mix CD or playlist for a friend is okay. I also think the RIAA are a bunch of crooks, but that's another story. Secondly, hymn leaves the apple ID embedded in the output file, so anyone who shares the decoded files on P2P networks is bound to be prosecuted under copyright law. [Emphasis added by TMO]

You can find more information on Hymn at the project's Web site.

The Mac Observer Spin:

This story continues to get more interesting. As we have said in the past, the whole situation is a bit of a sticky wicket. As with Hymn's creators, we deplore piracy, but we also deplore DRM schemes that limit the use of music, books, movies, etc. that we legally purchase. We specifically think that the DMCA is wrong, and that it puts far too much power into the hands of copyright owners, especially large corporate copyright owners.

At the same time, Apple has to go after software like this, or risk the ire of the labels providing the company with music to download, which in turn helps promote iPod use. Though Steve Jobs himself said that he wanted to be able to offer music downloads in unprotected form, whether or not he meant it, the labels have absolutely zero interest in losing that kind of control, whether it's from the download source, or from software like this. That means the labels are most likely to be exerting as much leverage as it can against Apple to stop this software.

That said, note that Hymn is leaving Apple' ID embedded in the file. That means that it is highly unlikely that Hymn-stripped files will ever be widely traded if Apple or the labels were to go after anyone doing it. Despite that, however, we imagine Apple will continue to feel compelled to pursue this software. Whether or not that pursuit will be successful is another question, but our guess is that this story is far from over. The next step will at least be for Apple to once again update iTunes to circumvent Hymn's circumvention.

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