Internet rights champions on Monday accused Apple of stifling free speech by bullying OdioWorks into ending online sharing of ways to get iPods to work with music websites other than iTunes.
Attorneys from nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) teamed with OdioWorks lawyers to file a lawsuit against California-based Apple in a US federal court.
At the heart of the issue is the BluWiki website that details ways to get Apple's popular iPhones and iPod MP3 players to synchronize music and video files with media at services such as Songbird, Banshee, Rockbox, and Winamp.
BluWiki operates as a "public service" with visitors able to freely edit or modify content on web pages in wiki-style collaborative efforts, according to OdioWorks, which owns the website.
"Hobbyists" at BluWiki shared insights about reverse-engineering Apple software and making it possible for iPod and iPhone owners to "manage their media with whatever program they chose," the lawsuit states.
BluWiki terminated the forum late last year after Apple attorneys threatened to sue OdioWorks for spreading word of how to circumvent its digital rights management technology.
Apple zealously guards iTunes' status as an exclusive content delivery and management tool for iPod and iPhone hardware.
"Apple's legal threats against BluWiki are about censorship, not about protecting their legitimate copyright interests," said EFF senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann.
"It's legal to engage in reverse engineering in order to create a competing product, it's legal to talk about reverse engineering, and it's legal for a public wiki to host those discussions."
Apple did not respond to an AFP request for comment.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that BluWiki is doing nothing wrong by hosting talk of how to get iPhones and iPods to work with websites other than iTunes and to tell Apple to back off its legal threats.
"I take the free speech rights of BluWiki users seriously," said OdioWorks owner Sam Odio, owner of OdioWorks.
"Companies like Apple should not be able to censor online discussions by making baseless legal threats against services like BluWiki that host the discussions."