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The major reason that Apple wants to stop hackers from creating new open source programs for its iPhone, some analysts say, is that it has signed exclusivity agreements in various countries with service providers such as AT&T, T-Mobile and O2. Because Apple wants these companies to have incentives to continue developing exclusive applications for the iPhone, they say, Apple must make an effort to stop open source use.
“The open source applications are probably affecting AT&T more than they’re affecting Apple,” says Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, a division scientist at BBN Technologies. “I would imagine there’s an exclusivity clause somewhere in the contract with AT&T, at least for a particular period of time, primarily so people couldn’t go to other carriers.”
While Apple isn’t going to passively watch while others develop open-source programs for its devices, it isn’t clear how aggressively the company plans to go after hackers. Steve Jobs called the back-and-forth battle between Apple and hackers a “a cat-and-mouse game” where “people will try to break in, and it's our job to stop them breaking in,” but he didn’t give specific details on what the company planned to do.
Dan Steinberg, the president of the Quebec-based firm Synthesis: Law and Technology, says that the effort Apple puts into stopping hackers will correlate directly with how much open source applications hurt both its bottom line and the bottom lines of its partners.
“We don’t know if they’re going to pay lip service to this or if they’re going to go hardcore,” he says. “To know that, you’d have to know their business model, and you’d have to know the details of the deals they’ve made with various cell phone companies.”
One of the options open to Apple is to file lawsuits against hackers under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was passed in 1998 to ban the use of any devices that can be used to circumvent digital rights management systems. The DMCA has been invoked in several high-profile cases, including YouTube's defense against a threatened Viacom suit for the copyrighted video clips that its users had posted online, and the Motion Picture Association of America's suit against 321 Studios for developing encryption-busting DVD copying software.
Seth David Schoen, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, thinks that fear of being prosecuted under the DMCA has proven effective in keeping several hobbyist open source developers from sharing their innovations on the Web.
One of the enduring problems here, as in many of the fields of technology now living under the DMCA's shadow, is the gap between what hobbyists know how to accomplish and what others are willing to commercialize to bring to a wider audience,” he says. “In many cases there are great advances and features enabled by hobbyist reverse engineering that might be brought to a larger audience but for the fear of legal liability.”