'DVD Jon' offers beta version of content sharing tool

DVD Jon's new venture, DoubleTwist, has released beta versions of two applications to unlock music bought from Apple's iTunes Store.

After cracking the encryption system that protected DVDs in order to play the discs he had bought on a PC running Linux, Jon Lech Johansen has his sights set on liberating other audiovisual content from the format in which it is sold.

DoubleTwist, a company he co-founded in March 2007 with Monique Farantzos, on Tuesday released beta versions of a Facebook application and a PC desktop application for unlocking and managing music and video files.

Johansen achieved notoriety as 'DVD Jon' when he ended up in court for co-writing the DeCSS software that cracked the encryption on DVDs and allowed them to play on PCs running open-source media player software on Linux. Until then, they could only be watched using authorized hardware or proprietary software because their content was encrypted using the Content Scrambling System (CSS).

He followed that up by breaking a series of other DRM (digital rights management) encryption systems including FairPlay, Apple's proprietary DRM wrapper around the open AAC format music files it sells via its iTunes Store.

While Apple's iPod is not the only portable device that can play AAC files -- many Nokia phones do too -- it is the only one that can play the encrypted AAC files Apple sells. There are ways to work around Apple's DRM, including burning the files to a CD and then ripping them back into the computer in another format, but they are time-consuming.

DoubleTwist's tools, Twist me and doubleTwist desktop, are intended to make it easier to move music and video files, including those locked by Apple's DRM, from one device to another, or to share them with family and friends, the company said.

Twist me, the Facebook application, lets users of the social network site put music and video on their profile pages to share with friends.

DoubleTwist desktop runs on Windows PCs alongside Apple's iTunes, and can take legally purchased iTunes files in the DRM-protected AAC format and, on the machine authorized to play them, turn them into MP3 files that will then play almost anywhere, the company said.

The desktop software also includes tools for sharing audio and video playlists and photo albums, and synchronizing them with Nokia's NSeries, Sony Ericsson's Walkman and Cybershot phones, the Sony PSP game console and the Amazon Kindle e-reader, among other devices. In addition to AAC and MP3, it handles WMA (Windows Media Audio) and WAV audio formats, and video in MPEG2, MPEG4, WMV (Windows Media Video), AVI and the 3GP format used by mobile phones.

DoubleTwist's software may soon be obsolete, though. Digital music retailers are beginning to realize that DRM just irritates customers, and Apple now offers almost half the encrypted music in its iTunes Store in higher-quality versions without DRM, at the same price. Amazon.com, meanwhile, sells all its digital music in MP3 format without DRM, as do independent online music stores such as EMusic.

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Peter Sayer

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