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Apple, others given notice over alleged DMCA gaps

A DRM software firm has sent cease and desist letters to Apple Inc. as well as other top media software providers, accusing them of copyright violations by choosing not to run proprietary anti-ripping tools.

Media Rights Technologies issued the formal but non-binding warnings to four key industry players this week, insisting that Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, and Real Networks were in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act through potential circumvention holes in their software.

The software developer argued that offering any media playback program whose Internet streams are vulnerable to being ripped and copied —including iTunes and Windows Media Player —is in itself a violation of the DMCA. Developers are obligated to provide as secure a solution as possible, according to the firm's interpretation of the law.

As Media Rights Technologies had developed a software control that was approved by the RIAA and other agencies for locking down those streams, it reasoned that Apple and the other subjects of the cease and desist letters could be held liable for copyright infringement for "actively avoiding" use of those controls. Any company named in the letters that refused to purchase a license for the controls could face a federal injunction to halt distribution of affected hardware and software, Media Rights threatened.

The court action could also involve financial penalties as high as $2500 for every device or program copy that passed through the doors of the allegedly guilty parties. Media Rights' CEO Hank Risan claimed that the scale of the supposed violations made it necessary to force the targeted outlets to use its copy protection software.

"Together these four companies are responsible for 98 percent of the media players in the marketplace; CNN, NPR, Clear Channel, MySpace Yahoo and YouTube all use these infringing devices to distribute copyrighted works," he said. "We will hold the responsible parties accountable. The time of suing John Doe is over."

Legal experts, however, doubted that the letters were more than an attempt to drum up press and near-term business.

"It looks to me like a play for publicity," claimed University of Michigan copyright expert and law professor Jessica Litman. The DMCA "doesn't impose liability simply because some product could be redesigned to implement a technological protection scheme but its makers decline to do so." Lawyer Randy Lipsitz from New York law firm Kramer Levin agreed, saying that the DMCA was meant to prevent the products themselves from avoiding the use of DRM, not to impose one company's software on another.

Risan's Santa Cruz, California-based firm has a past history of pressing for government-mandated solutions that would help its business. MRT issued a statement as recently as late April that demanded the controversial Internet Radio Equality Act "must include an anti-Stream Ripping provision."

None of the targeted media player developers claimed to have received the cease and desist letters as of Friday. Apple in particular was unavailable for comment. Real Networks' representative Matt Graves nevertheless felt that the "desperate" financial motivation behind the action was self-evident from MRT's own words.

"[It's] a rather novel approach to business development," he said.