Hacker's firm doubleTwist enables copying of iTunes

CHAMONIX, France Tue Feb 19, 2008 12:57am EST

A customer (2nd L) discusses an Apple product with a shop assistant (C) while customers shop at an Apple store in Tokyo in this August 25, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota/Files

A customer (2nd L) discusses an Apple product with a shop assistant (C) while customers shop at an Apple store in Tokyo in this August 25, 2006 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Kiyoshi Ota/Files

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CHAMONIX, France (Reuters) - A start-up co-founded by famed Norwegian hacker "DVD Jon" is on Tuesday introducing a service that enables users to copy and use copy-protected Apple Inc(AAPL.O) iTunes songs on many popular non-Apple devices.

The San Francisco-based company, doubleTwist, is releasing a service that makes it easy for consumers to share both user-generated and professionally created audio, photos and video clips via computers, certain mobile phones or PSP game players.

Beyond computer-to-computer media-sharing, doubleTwist lets users synchronize media sitting on their computers to mobile devices they or their friends own, simply by "dragging and dropping" media files into a desktop folder that then drops copies of the media files onto the mobile devices over the Web.

The software initially can share files with Sony's (6758.T) PSP game console, Nokia's (NOK1V.HE) multimedia N-series phone line, Sony Ericsson's Walkman and Cybershop lines, LG's Viewty, and Microsoft's (MSFT.O) Windows Mobile smartphones such as Palm's PALM.O Treo and HTC (2498.TW) models.

Users can choose to share as many or as few media files as they wish with specific friends. DoubleTwist software converts media stored in one file format to formats used by the other devices, making it possible to create common playlists that mix songs from Apple iTunes on non-Apple devices, doubleTwist said.

DoubleTwist's trick for opening up copy-protected formats is to replay a song in fast-forward mode and capture a copy of the audio track by re-recording it. It's essentially the same process as when a user "rips," or copies, a CD onto a computer.

"Users can only play back the music they have already purchased and they are authorized to play," said Monique Farantzos, 34, doubleTwists's co-founder and chief executive.

One hundred songs can be converted in half an hour or so. DoubleTwist estimates the trick results in about a 5 percent degradation in sound-quality, similar to CD duplication. Friends can listen to copy-protected songs that doubleTwist users have shared with them, whether or not they own the rights themselves, the company said.

DoubleTwist said it has created a legal technique that balances consumers desire to share media with their friends without unleashing a new wave of wholesale piracy of copyrighted content from Napster-like file-sharing services.

Nearly a decade ago, Napster popularized the idea of ripping digital music from compact discs and sharing it over the Web more or less anonymously with other music fans. Napster and successor file-sharing services were forced to shut down when record labels filed a wave of lawsuits to halt the trend.

DoubleTwist officials said they are not enabling open file-sharing. "All we are facilitating are friends sending things to one another," Farantzos said.

The company believes that its service is within the mainstream of what the music industry is trying to do by doing away with copy protection on songs sold through Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), for example. DoubleTwist said it has not informed Apple of their plans, but that they expect no pushback.

DoubleTwist also disclosed it has received an undisclosed amount of first-round funding from Norway's NorthZone Ventures and Geneva-based Index Ventures, which was an early backer of Skype, Last.fm and MySQL before their eventual sale to larger companies.

As a 16-year-old teenager in Norway, Johansen sparked a similar legal controversy when he published code to break copy-protection for Hollywood movies.

Now 24, Johansen, doubleTwist's chief technology officer, has remained on the frontline of such controversies and has had several run-ins with Apple over efforts to help consumers "liberate" music from iTunes' copy protection regime.

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