MyTunes exploits iTunes Windows playlist sharing

Now that Apple is offering iTunes software and access to its music store to Windows users, the company has a significant opportunity to increase its marketshare of downloadable music. But the company is also going to have to contend with applications like the recently released MyTunes, which allows Windows users to circumvent the intended use of the software by downloading music from an iTunes shared playlist over a network.

Bill Zeller, a 20-year-old Trinity College student, wrote and released MyTunes just 10 days after the official release of iTunes for Windows. His Web site claims that the application is intended to enable users "to save music from other computers to your hard drive."

MyTunes doesn't break the digital rights management that Apple has placed in all of its purchased music, but it does allow users to download and play music imported from CDs. Zeller's Web site also states that he is fairly certain that MyTunes cannot be detected on a network, which means someone could be downloading shared music without the source person's knowledge.

Zeller told MacCentral he recognizes that the application could be used for illegal purposes, but believes its users, not the software developer, are responsible for how the application is used. To date, he has not been contacted by Apple, the RIAA or any music company about his application.

"I would like to think they would go after those infringing copyrights and not those abiding by them," said Zeller. "However, although MyTunes can be used for legal ends, I understand how they (Apple and/or the RIAA) might have a problem with the software. I would like to think the responsibility to act in accordance with the law is on the user. Authors of software should not have to babysit the user in order to insure legal compliance."

Zeller goes on to say that, "Software is, by its very nature, neither good nor evil. It simply offers the user a means to achieve a task -- that task, in this case, is to copy files that are shared via iTunes. The responsibility falls to the user, not the developer, to recognize what actions violate copyright infringement and which do not. I believe that copyright infringement is a crime, and despite the fact that this software has illegal applications, I believe that offering users options is important. The MyTunes license agreement and common sense both dictate that the software should only be used for legal purposes."

"I am not surprised to see this application exist, but I am surprised to see the apparent developer (Zeller) be so cavalier about it in this litigious environment," Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal told MacCentral.

Deal also believes that applications like MyTunes will not enjoy the popularity that they once had because of the ease with which people can download music legally. The iTunes Music Store is available to Mac and Windows users, while the latter group of users also have access to and the newly re-launched Napster, to name a few.

"Downloading music legally has become so easy and so cheap, I can't see why this application would garner widespread popularity," said Deal. "Still, there is always that small percentage who will exploit its capability."

The reaction from users, as you might expect, has been mixed. While Zeller can't say precisely what percentage of the e-mails are from Mac and PC users, he said that generally Windows users thank him for the application, while Mac users berate him for facilitating the illegal downloading of music. One user notified both Trinity College and Apple's legal department of the application. (At the time of the complaint, Zeller's Web site was hosted on the college's network, but he has since moved the site to another domain in order to avoid possible conflicts.)

When Apple first released iTunes 4, the application sported a feature that allowed users to share music (without downloading it) from their playlists. Some users soon discovered that they also could share music across the Internet by opening their IP address to other users. It didn't take long for users to make an application to copy the streamed songs to their hard drives.

Apple quickly released an update to iTunes that disabled a user's ability to share music across the Internet, but left the feature in place for users on the same subnetwork.

"Rendezvous music sharing, another new feature in iTunes 4, has been used by some in ways that have surprised and disappointed us," Apple said in a statement given to MacCentral at the time of the iTunes update. "We designed it to allow friends and family to easily stream (not copy) their music between computers at home or in a small group setting, and it does this well. But some people are taking advantage of it to stream music over the Internet to people they do not even know. This was never the intent. While Rendezvous music sharing does not compromise music purchased from the iTunes Music Store, which will only play on three authorized Macs, it does allow the sharing of music imported from CDs, for example."

While third-party applications like MyTunes may become common, Tim Deal doesn't think they will have any real affect on Apple's cross-platform music campaign.

"I think that applications such as this will force Apple to release updates to its software to prevent exploitation, but the effect on Apple's music campaign will be minimal," said Deal.

The online music downloading business is already becoming crowded as competitors jump onboard to dethrone Apple as the market leader. While Apple has a full solution, offering users all the software and hardware necessary to purchase, listen and download music to an MP3 player, Deal warns that the company must remain aggressive in building its music library or risk losing users.

"The iTMS was the first major online music distribution service to offer one-off pricing -- this was a huge development for the market," said Deal. "The market will become crowded with rival services with very similar value propositions, resulting in a competitive environment with three differentiating factors: Price, selection and ease of use. The iTMS pricing strategy is on par with its competition, but it is absolutely critical that Apple work to increase its song library or lose users to Napster. The iTMS exists to sell iPods. It is the superior integration of hardware, software, and Web application that draws customers to the iPod/iTunes union. That integration makes it difficult to compete with."

This story, "MyTunes exploits iTunes Windows playlist sharing" was originally published by PCWorld.

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