August 19, 2004 11:49 AM PDT
Hackers revive iTunes music sharing
Like an older piece of software called "MyTunes," student David Blackman's new "OurTunes" allows a person to browse complete iTunes libraries on other computers and download songs, either in MP3 or the AAC format preferred by Apple. Songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store and wrapped in Apple's copy protection technology cannot be traded.
OurTunes works only among computers that share a network, however. That means that students or employees can swap songs on a local network but cannot use it to browse computers on the Internet, as happens with file-trading programs such as Kazaa. Still, the software is likely to ring an alarm at Apple and among record company executives, who have waged war against file swapping since Napster's heyday.
"I'm a Linux guy. I expect my software to be extensible," Blackman said in an instant-message interview. "I really think that this will encourage people to join their local iTunes communities, and that's a good thing."
An Apple representative declined to comment for this report.
Apple has spent much of the past two years trying to balance its own desire to expand the way people use their music with record companies' requests that songs be protected against unauthorized copying. iTunes' ability to stream songs throughout a home network has been one of the sources of this tension.
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Since iTunes' release, Apple has increasingly touted it as the core of a home music system. It initially allowed streams to flow between Macintosh and, later, Windows computers on a network and ultimately released the AirPort Express wireless device for beaming music directly to a stereo receiver.
Outside programmers quickly turned this capability into a way to stream songs over the Internet, and a host of iTunes-based Net radio stations emerged.
Apple blocked the Net streaming capability but retained the ability to stream inside a single network. Trinity College student Bill Zeller then figured out how to turn the streaming capability into a way to download and save MP3s, and created MyTunes.
However, in April, Apple
Other programmers continued to test Apple's code, however. A Mac-only program called GetTunes has done much the same thing as MyTunes for months, despite Apple's changes.
More broadly, an Australian student named David Hammerton cracked through the encryption and authentication system used by iTunes last spring and posted details online, allowing other non-iTunes programs to access Apple's software. With this tool available, Zeller said, it was fairly easy to turn iTunes' streaming function into a download instead.
With OurTunes, the developers have expanded on the earlier tools, writing the software in Java so that it will work on Windows or Macintosh computers and adding a search tool that MyTunes lacked. The software has been released freely under an open-source license.
Blackman said he drew heavily on Hammerton's work and on another piece of software called AppleRecords to create OurTunes. He and other friends are continuing to develop new features and the interface for the program, he added.
"This isn't the first bit of software to do this," Blackman said. "We just do it better and in a more friendly way."