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Apple backs off Bluwiki legal threats in censorship dispute

After repeatedly threatening legal action against a site host for content covering iTunes database exploration — and drawing return litigation in the process — Apple has decided to back off its threats against the Web site Bluwiki.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was the Web site's legal representation, announced the development Wednesday.

Bluwiki offered a set of anonymous user-created wiki pages where users explained how to sync media with iPods and iPhones without the use of iTunes. That drew legal threats from Apple, which prompted the Web site to fire back.

OdioWorks, which runs the free and open wiki service BluWiki, wanted to bar Apple from repeatedly threatening its own legal action for letting BluWiki users host a wiki for iTunesDB.

iTunesDB is a project to learn about iTunes' database file system and create third-party software that can replicate the sync functionality of iTunes for iPhones and iPods without forcing users to run Apple's own media software.

Starting in Nov. 2008, Apple, through a series of lawsuits, claimed the very existence of iTunesDB violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)'s rules on circumventing copyright locks and successfully frightened OdioWorks into taking down the wiki entries.

Then, in April 2009, the EFF and Keker & Van Nests, a San Francisco-based law firm, returned fire, suing Apple on behalf of OdioWorks. They asked a court to reject Apple's claims and allow Bluwiki to restore the pages in question.

But earlier this month, Apple sent a letter withdrawing its cease and desist demands, and EFF responded in kind, moving to dismiss its complaint against Apple.

"Apple no longer has, nor will it have in the future, any objection to the publication of the iTunesDB Pages," Apple's letter reads.

"While we are glad that Apple retracted its baseless legal threats, we are disappointed that it only came after 7 months of censorship and a lawsuit," EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann said in a statement. "Because Apple continues to use technical measures to lock iPod Touch and iPhone owners into — and Palm Pre owners out of — using Apple's iTunes software, I wouldn't be surprised if there are more discussions among frustrated customers about reverse engineering Apple products. We hope Apple has learned its lesson here and will give those online discussions a wide berth in the future."