Real v Apple music war: iPod freedom petition backfires

iTunes zealots get lippy

iTunes zealots get lippy

RealNetworks has stepped up its music 'war' on Apple - with results it clearly didn't expect.

Hostilities started in late July, when Real cracked Apple's FairPlay code, meaning songs bought from the RealPlayer Music Store could be played on the iPod - a move that went down very badly over at Apple. Real then decided to ratchet up the pressure by slashing the cost of its downloads to less than the 79-cent price barrier favoured by Apple. The next step - a campaign to get music fans to support the company's open stance - hasn't worked out quite as it might have hoped after users besieged a petition with obscenities and anti-Real postings.

The petition on RealNetworks' www.freedomofmusicchoice.org site is entitled: "Hey Apple! Don't break my iPod".

"Your company has long stood for innovation and open competition," the petition reads. "We're asking that you… support the right of your own customers to make their own choices about where they buy music for the iPod. We want Freedom of Music Choice! Don't lock us in to purchasing digital music from one source. That's bad for competition. It will stifle innovation. And it will slow the adoption of digital music devices like the iPod."

Readers were encouraged to sign up and leave comments on the petition, now running at over 900 signatures. However, the comments left by petition signers were less than complimentary and featured a selection of tartly-worded and four-letter-littered epithets, with the target of the bile-spewing hordes being Real itself. CEO Rob Glaser came in for a particular attack from the website's visitors.

Visitors - including 'Michael Jackson', 'The Pope' and 'Bill Clinton' - expressed the view that they already have freedom of choice and would be exercising it by using iTunes. One poster, Rich Mertz, wrote: "You people are wrong, wrong, wrong. If we wanted 'choices' like yours, they wouldn't have to be foisted on us. Most of us given a real choice, would rather see you and your tactics go away. 'Competition' doesn't give you any right to reverse-engineer when you feel like it, but come down on those that hack into your IP rights. It's theft, pure and simple."

Others took issue with the fact Real's Rhapsody song shop doesn't support Macs. A poster by the name of MacUser wrote: "I choose to use a Macintosh. Why won't Real support me? Rhapsody doesn't work on the Mac. So even if I was interested in buying music from Real, I can't do it."

RealNetworks' stock price reacted badly to the price cutting and free music campaign, with shares dropping 20 cents to close at $5 each on Tuesday.

Some users, however, did support the campaign. Juan Noyles wrote: "Stop being so stingy, Jobs!" Another going by first name only, Jason, added: "I've got to give this particular move a thumbs-up. Proprietary file formats are never good for customers… Anything that opens up competition in the market can't help but be good even if it comes from a P.O.S. developer like Real."

The deluge of anti-Real sentiment prompted the company to take down the original petition and replace it with one without a comment section but where the names of those who signed up were visible. Most signed up as 'Real sucks' or similar. The ability to see names was then removed.

Users can still post comments on the issue via freedomofmusicchoice.org once they register with the site, with similar anti-Real tirades already appearing, complete with intermittent swearing.

Real isn't the first company to criticise Apple over its stance on digital rights management (DRM). Virgin Mega recently took issue with the iPod saying its proprietary stance was anticompetitive.