New Real Player To Play iTunes Downloads; Set To Cause Controversy

Real Networks will announce Wednesday a new RealPlayer for Windows that will play back music bought through the iTunes Music Store, despite the company not having licensed Appleis FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) technology. The move is expected to be a controversial one that could set the stage for a legal battle over whether Apple wants its users to play its files through another player.

The new RealPlayer 10 for Windows will use a new Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) technology wrapped in its own Helix digital rights management technology to compress files at what Real says will be the highest bit rate in the industry. Real will not be releasing an updated Player for Macintosh with similar features until later this year.

Five formats

In addition, the player will support five different formats of music files: itis own Real format, Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, MP3, true Advanced Audio Coding, and Appleis version of AAC. The Player will look on a useris hard drive and look for files meeting the five formats and allow them to be played through RealPlayer 10.

It is the ability to play imported Apple AAC files without Apple giving Real Networks the rights to its FairPlay DRM that could become an issue. Appleis AAC files are also encased in its own proprietary DRM technology, called FairPlay, and Real has worked around the need to have FairPlay rights to play the file.

Realis Not Telling

Ryc Brownrig, General Manager of product management and business development for Real Networks would not elaborate on how the company is playing iTunes files through RealPlayer 10. "Iim not going to go into all the specific, literal details," Browning said.

Brownrig explained that once a user buys content online for a specific PC, it includes ikeysi that authorize playback. It is those ikeysi that RealPlayer 10 then takes advantage of to play music files. Browning said Real Networks feels the "permission" once the key is on a users PC gives them the right to play a music file in any format on any player.

"The user has been granted rights based on their purchase from the iTunes store to play back that content on their Windows-based PC. Weire abiding by those rules," Brownrig commented. "Weire not allowing users to burn CDs. Weire simply allowing them to play a file through our we donit think there is an issue here."

The wrath of Apple

It is that ability, however, that could bring the wrath of Apple Computer, which has kept other companies from playing its content without having its DRM technology. As this story went to press, Apple spokespersons were not available for comment on what course the company might take in reaction to this news.

Brownrig said Real Networks feels there is not a legal issue here with Apple who they consider a partner. "We will see what happens," he said. Brownrig said that Apple might try and patch iTunes to prevent its player from playing iTunes files on another player, but said he hoped the company would consider the ramifications.

"I donit see why they would want to break a system that enables people to still buy and play content from them," Brownrig said. "What weire basically doing is just facilitating something and playing back the content. People are still buying content from Apple. Steve Jobsi whole premise behind the store was to sell iPods. The ability for people to use iTunes with another player seems to me to be an advantage to him from the standpoint that the user has another choice and another player that they want and if they still want his content, they can still get it."

Joe Wilcox, an industry analyst with Jupiter Research, feels Apple might not like what Real Networks has done. "Apple has typically sought to control the user experience from end to end to ensure the best customer experience. Itis possible Apple might have some issues with a potential rivals perceived interference with that experience."

At the same time, Wilcox feels Real Networks is giving users choice by purchasing from various sources and playing on one player. "I really like Realis iSwiss Army Knifei approach to digital music players, " he said. "This is something Apple should really think about."