Doctorow on Platform Monopolies

by on July 28, 2006

Corey Doctorow has a good article on the DMCA on Information Week:

The DMCA makes the kind of reverse-engineering that’s commonplace in most industries illegal in copyright works. For example, in the software industry, it’s legal to reverse-engineering a file-format in order to make a competing product. The reason: The government and the courts created copyright to provide an incentive to creativity, not to create opportunities to exclude competitors from the marketplace.

Reverse engineering is a common practice in most industries. You can reverse-engineer a blender and make your own blades, you can reverse-engineer a car and make your own muffler, and you can reverse-engineer a document and make a compatible reader. Apple loves to reverse-engineer–from Keynote to TextEdit to, Apple loves reverse-engineering its competitors’ products and making its own competing products.

But the iTunes/iPod product line is off-limits to this kind of reverse-engineering. No one but Apple can authorize an iTunes/iPod competitor, and Apple’s not exactly enthusiastic about such authorization –the one major effort to date was the stillborn Motorola ROKR phone, which was so crippled by ridiculous Apple-driven restrictions that it barely made a ripple as it sank to the bottom of the cesspool of failed electronics.

Doctorow makes a good point about Apple’s own reverse engineering. I wonder if Apple believes it was guilty of adopting “the tactics and ethics of a hacker” when it reverse engineered Power Point in order to allow Keynote users to interoperate with Power Point users. Or for that matter, when they bundled Samba, a networking suite that was built by reverse-engineering Microsoft’s file and print sharing protocols, into Mac OS X. Maybe those products ought to be illegal as well.

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