Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 12:03 UK

DVD Jon's fresh twist on gadgets

DoubleTwist lets users move content between devices

In 1999 a Norwegian teenager broke the copy protection on DVDs sparking a flurry of legal action and attempts by the film industry to put the genie back into the bottle.

Ten years on and Jon Lech Johansen, known more widely as DVD Jon, is the co-founder of a San Francisco start-up helping to simplify portable multimedia.

"This is a continuation of what I have always been doing," says Mr Johansen of his venture doubleTwist.

An application for PCs and Macs, it is designed to take the pain out of moving different types of content between devices.

A sort of "iTunes on steroids", it allows the user to plug in a number of different devices and then drag and drop music, video and photos to the gadget and not be concerned if the file type is supported.

Early adopters

"What we are trying to do with doubleTwist is offer something that my parents can use," he adds.

"We don't have that many early adopters - most are regular users."

DoubleTwist is a potential solution to a problem that has afflicted almost anyone who has ever bought a portable media player.

The media management programs that come bundled with devices often make moving content from a computer to the gadget complicated or impossible.

Iphone and iPod users may enjoy the simplicity and convenience of iTunes but you cannot plug in any other portable device and use Apple's software.

Complicating matters further is the fact digital video formats come in many different flavours which are often not supported by your device of choice.

DoubleTwist will handle the necessary conversion from one format to another in the background before transferring it to a device.

No incentive

"Apple is the biggest kid on the block and has no incentive to opening up the iTunes software to other gadgets," says Monique Farantzos, Johansen's co-founder at doubleTwist.

"There is a lot of bad design out there," she adds.

"Companies haven't put any effort into things working seamlessly," she says.

The software supports many different types of devices

DoubleTwist's ambition is to become the default application for all gadgets - from iPods to Blackberrys.

But the company is cognisant of the fact the some tech firms might not take too kindly to having their own software made redundant. On top of that doubleTwist has to reverse engineer some proprietary systems in order to make them "play nice".

"We think a closed ecosystem is not in the interests of the consumer," says Ms Farantzos.

"If we need to reverse engineer or study Apple's proprietary system to make it play nicer with other devices, we can. We have ways of maintaining compatibility with iTunes."

DoubleTwist says it has "consulted with some of the top legal experts in the field to make sure we are doing things in ways that don't expose the company to unnecessary risks".

Mr Johansen is well versed in legal risks - he was taken to court several times by the movie industry over breaking DVD protection but was never found guilty.

The company has financial backing from several high-profile investors; Index Ventures, who backed Skype, Alex Zubillaga, the former head of digital strategy at Warner and Michael Ovitz, the former chief of Disney.

What may be surprising is the firm's stance on Digital Rights Management (DRM): Mr Johansen spent years defeating DRM systems on all types of content, including music from iTunes and video protected by Microsoft's Windows Media codec.

Not circumvent

When doubleTwist was first announced many observers jumped to the conclusion that it would allow people to circumvent DRM.

But doubleTwist will not circumvent copy protection and allow files, such as video, to be moved on to devices other than the ones that were intended to playback the content.

"We could do it but consumers are not asking for that," says Mr Johansen.

Ms Farantzos adds: "Fortunately music has seen quite a robust move away from DRM. On the video front, however, there is still DRM but also a lot of consumer video that does not have copy protection."

"The music industry always had CDs without DRM. Video has always had DRM and it's hard not to give up on it," says Mr Johansen.

doubleTwist converts video the format supported by your device

The company is working to build out the number of devices it supports, and is using its users to alert them to new products, or changes in specifications.

It will be adding support for podcasting soon, as well as the ability to move content from an iPhone or iPod back to a computer.

"All these songs are trapped on the iPod," says Mr Johansen. "We are about helping consumer loading and extracting content from their devices."

Premium services

DoubleTwist is free to use and the firm is looking to add premium services, including sharing HD video, and cloud storage for content.

It is also looking to become a platform for distributing third-party content, including video games.

"We plan to remain neutral - we see ourselves as the Switzerland of digital media," says Ms Farantzos.

The pair say they are not worried that consumer electronics firms will get their act together to create clearer standards around the sharing, moving and exchange of digital content.

"That will lead to design by committee and won't work," says Ms Farantzos.

"And if that ever happens it will take many years. At the moment there are just way too many devices and different standards," says Mr Johansen.

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