Apple Accuses RealNetworks Of 'Hacker Tactics'

``We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod, and we are investigating the (legal) implications of their actions,'' Apple said.

Seattle-based RealNetworks announced over the weekend that it had developed software that allows songs purchased from its online music store to transfer to Apple's iPod.

The new system gets around internal copy-protection armor of the iPod that limits the popular portable music player to songs downloaded directly from Apple's iTunes Music Store or songs converted into the generic MP3 music format.

Cupertino-based Apple did not return previous phone calls seeking comment on RealNetworks' move.

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But Thursday's caustic reply suggested Apple was prepared to jealously guard its iPod franchise. It warned that Real's efforts to expand sales by tapping into the iPod would likely be short-lived.

``When we update our iPod software from time to time, it is highly likely that Real's Harmony technology will cease to work with current and future iPods,'' Apple said.

RealNetworks said the Harmony technology ``follows in a well-established tradition of fully legal, independently developed paths to achieve compatibility.'' It is designed, the company says, to be compatible with a number of different copy-protection systems.

Apple uses a protection scheme called Fairplay to make songs purchased from its iTunes store transferrable only to the iPod.

Apple dominates the legal digital music world. It has sold more than 4 million iPods and more than 100 million songs have been downloaded from its online music store.

RealNetworks was rebuffed months ago when it asked Apple to open up the iPod to support its online music services.

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