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The Catch with DRM-Free iTunes

It seems like a blunder, but was it a brilliant plan?

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This is Leo Notenboom for

Apple’s iTunes normally uses a fairly reasonable form of DRM or Digital
Rights Management. Basically you can play your iTunes purchased media on up to
something like five different computers registered to your account. Until
recently if you want a DRM-free version of a song that you can play anywhere
without restriction, you need to resort to illegal DRM removal tools, or
actually burn the music to an audio CD and then rip that CD to MP3 files with
some resulting loss in quality.

Apple recently enabled the purchase of some the music on iTunes without DRM
for a slightly higher charge. Buy it once and play it anywhere you have iTunes.
Sounds great, right?

The concern, as some people discovered, is that Apple is apparently
embedding your name and email address in plain, easy-to-view text within that
DRM-free music you purchased.

Now, on the surface, as long as you’re staying legal that shouldn’t cause
you an issue, right? As long as you’re not uploading what you just purchased
for others to steal for free, you should have nothing to worry about. The only
copies with your information would be on devices you own.

Except that apparently the name and email address can be altered. So to
actual music pirates it may not have much effect at all as they patch the name
and email address to be that of Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates or
someone else whom they want to set up to take the fall for illegal file

Some folks are surprised that Apple took this measure, and did it in this

I’m not.

What appears to be a blunder on Apple’s part – letting the information be
present in plain patchable text – seems to me to like it could be part of a
brilliant strategy.

Everyone now knows that Apple can do this. The concerns raised so far have
mostly been about the privacy implications of putting your information plainly
visible in the music you’ve purchased, not whether Apple has a right to
actually put it there.

So what can Apple do?

Simple. Encrypt it.

That’s all they have to do. That way they get to keep the identifiable
information within the DRM-free music in a way that only they can use to track
music pirates, without putting people’s privacy at risk.

And because of all the publicity to date, everyone will know it’s there.
Even if they can no longer see it.

Now, I’m not much of a conspiracy guy, but what if that was the plan all

I’d love to hear what you think. Visit and enter 11589 in the go
to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me
a comment. While you’re there, browse over 1,200 technical questions and
answers on the site.

Till next time, I’m Leo Notenboom, for

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6 comments on “The Catch with DRM-Free iTunes”

  1. I really don’t understand the big deal with DRM. I’m old enough where I grew up with transistor radios, 45 records, and reel to reel tape recorders. Many of us kids “in da hood” would record our favorite songs and then swap them. To the best of my knowledge, none of us was ever busted by the music police. When 8-tracks and cassette recorders came along it made it just that much easier to commit our “crimes”. Again, to the best of my knowledge people like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, etc. all went on to become multi-millionaires. In spite of all the “illegal” activites by me and my friends. So in 25 words or less, why is it such a big deal today?

  2. Even if Apple really starts encoding your private information into music files, what happens in a case when somebody accesses your computer (or gets hold of your CDs) without your permission and copies the DRM-free files to himself without you knowing it? I can see a number of everyday scenarios where this could be quite possible. How would then Apple try to prove that you did it yourself and did it deliberately?

  3. After they encrypt the information it could easily be ripped out unless they actually interleave it with the audio files, but then I’m sure that would take a special audio player, forcing you to use itunes…

  4. I can only say that it’s only a matter of time before you purchase a CD full of music, listen to it once and it self-destructs.

    Things are getting out of hand with DRM. It’s to the point that honest people don’t really know how many times they can play a song before the Music Cops pound on the door and demand double the money or else.

    Why has it gone this far? It’s sad. They make examples with the most ridiculous accusations.

    If this is the case, then we’re ALL in trouble because sooner or later it will be illegal to turn on 4 speakers instead of 2 while you’re blowing your nose in the bathroom…..not to mention that the neighbors heard the music………which is illegal sharing.

    Windows Movie Maker will be worthless because you will be performing an illegal operation by burning ANYTHING (home movies) with music that was purchased by YOU but possibly heard by other people…..sigh

  5. There are internet hacks to get around the 5 computer limits, but I only have 1 computer with my two ITunes videos, so I can’t try it. The restrictions on iTunes videos stopped me from purchasing more $2.99 videos. Will I get arrested for taping off MTV and VH1 when they used to show videos? 15 years ago.


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