Apple silences iTunes file-swapping software

The Mac maker has pounced on a developer who turned iTunes into a music-sharing tool

Apple Computer has forced a developer to stop distributing a plug-in that turned Apple's iTunes music player into a peer-to-peer music sharing client. The plug-in, called iCommune, allowed iTunes users to browse the music libraries of other Macintosh PCs over a network and stream or download music from the remote libraries.

On Wednesday, Apple notified developer James Speth that he was violating the terms of his software developer kit agreement, and ordered him to stop distributing the plug-in and to return the SDK materials. Speth removed the download.

Apple made the move amid an environment of increasing hostility between the entertainment industry and music-swapping applications such as Kazaa and the now-defunct Napster.

However, Apple did not make any direct reference to copyright issues in pulling the plug on iCommune. Instead, the company said that Speth broke the terms of the iTunes Device Plug-In SDK Agreement, which is aimed at allowing hardware makers to connect devices such as MP3 players to iTunes.

"The iTunes SDK materials are licensed only for the purpose of enabling the Licensee's hardware device identified in the agreement to interoperate with iTunes. The iTunes SDK is not licensed for use in a software program for sharing of music over a network," Apple said in its letter, according to Speth.

Speth said that the conflict with Apple was the result of a misunderstanding. He had specified that he would be connecting iTunes to a "component system MP3 player console", but what he had in mind was turning a Mac into a home entertainment system. "I use iTunes and iCommune on the Cube to turn (the Mac) into the MP3 player console I was envisioning when I started work on it," Speth said on Thursday in an email to an iCommune discussion list.

He said Apple was not interested in reworking the agreement to allow Speth to continue his development work on iCommune. Speth said he is currently seeking legal advice on how he might continue to use the iTunes plug-in programming interface (API). In the meantime, he may write a separate application with iCommune-like functionality. Apple's lawyer told Speth that "it was not their intention to allow for a piece of software like iCommune to be so tightly integrated with iTunes," Speth stated.

Apple has been building file-sharing functions into iTunes and its other iLife applications, iDVD, iPhoto and iMovie. New versions of the last three released earlier this month allow them to access music from iTunes.

In a keynote speech last year, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs also demonstrated an iTunes feature strikingly similar to iCommune. In demonstrating Rendezvous, Apple's technology for linking software and devices over a network, Jobs showed iTunes on a desktop computer automatically discovering iTunes on a laptop over a wireless network, and playing music from the laptop. Such a product has not yet been released, however.

Apple is notorious for keeping a watchful eye on developers who extend the functionality of its applications and its Mac OS X operating system. Last August, Apple threatened to invoke the Digital Millennium Copyright Act against a developer who patched iDVD to allow it to burn movies to external DVD drives.

Apple has made it far more difficult for developers to create add-ons to OS X, compared with the "Classic" operating system. Some developers have complained that updates to OS X change APIs for some functions, breaking some third-party add-ons.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

What will Apple come up with next? For full Mac OS coverage, see ZDNet UK's Mac News Section.

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