DRM-Free Music

Category: Music

I've run into problems trying to transfer my iTunes music to an MP3 player. I am told that the problem is DRM, some sort of copy protection built into the songs. Are there ways to get around this? Can I buy DRM-free music, or remove the DRM code?

DRM-free music

Music Wants to Be (DRM) Free

Have you ever purchased a bunch of songs on iTunes, and then tried to transfer them to an MP3 player, or burn a mix CD for the car? If so, then you've felt the pain that DRM brings.

So what is DRM? DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Music companies want to make music available for purchase online, but also they want to be able to restrict the rights so music is not given away free. As you said, DRM is basically copy protection. It prevents you from making copies, transferring the music to certain devices, or converting it to other formats. But this also makes it difficult for those who did legally purchase the music to put it on certain (non iPod) MP3 players, make backup copies, or burn a personal mix CD with your favorite songs.

Customers are complaining that DRM is too restrictive. They're buying software to remove the DRM code from their songs, and certainly some are turning to music sharing services like LimeWire and Bittorrent. So music vendors, afraid that frustrated music buyers may revolt, have begun to offer DRM-free music. Here's a roundup of online music sellers that are offering DRM-free music.

DRM-Free Music Vendors

iTunes Plus - Apple now offers iTunes Plus, a subset of their music catalog that is DRM-free. Songs in iTunes Plus format cost 99 cents (same as regular iTunes music) and have high-quality 256 kbps AAC encoding, which sounds geeky, but it simply means that the sound quality is twice as high as the regular DRM'd music in iTunes. There are no burn limits and you can transfer iTunes Plus music to Mac or Windows computers, iPods, and many other digital music players. You can also upgrade one of your DRM'd songs to Plus format for 30 cents.

So there's no DRM, the quality is higher, and the price is the same. What's the catch? Well, there are actually three catches, which may or not bother you. First, not all music can be purchased in iTunes Plus format, because some recording labels do not (yet?) offer DRM-free music. To the best of my knowledge, only EMI is offering the DRM-free option on iTunes. Second, the songs are in in AAC format, not the more portable and popular MP3 standard. If you have an iPod or a music player than can play AAC's, then you're good to go. But most non-iPod players don't support AAC. (You can right-click on the song in iTunes and convert to MP3, with some loss of sound quality.) And third, even though the iTunes Plus tracks are DRM-free, they still contain your name and account information inside the file. Some people groan that this is a privacy issue, but why would these whiners be upset, unless they wanted to illegally "share" this music?

Amazon MP3 - Amazon announced last year that they'll make available MP3 formatted songs that are DRM free. They're selling the music at $.99 each, or as low as $5.00 for an entire album. The DRM free music allows you to download to iPods or other types of MP3 players, and is compatible with iTunes and Windows Media Player. And you can burn, baby burn, all you like. Amazon MP3's digital music catalogue offers DRM-free tunes from all four major labels (Universal, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music) with over 3 million songs to choose from.

Other companies that are selling DRM-free music include Walmart, Yahoo, and eMusic. Each one has various agreements and prices.

Will DRM-free music cause the music industry to suffer, or will they thrive as music lovers embrace the freedom and higher sound quality? We'll find out in the future if it'll help improve music sales. What are your thoughts on DRM-free music? Post a comment below...

 
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Most recent comments on "DRM-Free Music"

Posted by:

Charles Scott
26 Mar 2008

I'm an old guy (55) who avoided downloaded music for years due to the lack of flexibility, inability to preview, and concerns about viruses/piracy. I recently bought my first downloaded "CD" from Amazon and I'm perfectly happy. It was an obscure import that would have been $20 for only $8, and the process was simple. I can burn a CD for my car, put it on my MP3 Walkman, leave a copy on my computer, etc. It was easy, and it felt like being in Tower Records again. I never minded paying for an artist's music, but when I buy it I want to own it, not rent it.


Posted by:

Peter Emery
26 Mar 2008

To remove DRM from iTunes purchased music, use iTunes to burn your purchased tracks to an audio CD. I use CD-RW discs, so I can erase the tracks after I have finished.

In iTunes Preferences, select the "Advanced" tab, then choose "Burning" and click on Audio CD. Close preferences, then select the Protected AAC tracks you want and create a new playlist. Put a blank CD/DVD into your optical drive and click the Burn button.

The selected tracks appear on the CD/DVD as .aiff files. Return to iTunes Preferences and navigate to Advanced:Importing, then choose to import using MP3 Encoder. Import you just burned tracks back into iTunes. They will appear as MP3 tracks and will no longer have any DRM restrictions.

You can copy your music directly from your Music folder (without activating iTunes) to any device capable of playing MP3s or use iTunes to burn MP3 CDs/DVDs. You will need to reset the burning preferences from Audio CD to MP3 however.


Posted by:

Spence Hackney
26 Mar 2008

The Zune marketplace is DRM free too.


Posted by:

Steve
27 Mar 2008

Hey Bob, and everyone. Whiney? The RIAA is whiney. People don't want to support their lawsuits by buying their records. You can either support their lawsuits or pirate the music, but if you get sued you still support their lawsuits. I'd like to see more press coverage about anonymous p2p networks and software so that people won't have to pay the RIAA at all if they switch usually. Perhaps you could write about some of those sometime, maybe with talk of linux compatible software and networks, as I'm using ubuntu.

EDITOR'S NOTE: See http://askbobrankin.com/sued_for_downloading.html


Posted by:

joe
28 Mar 2008

"but why would these whiners be upset, unless they wanted to illegally "share" this music?"

I can think of a reason. Some person, or company, might like to share YOUR personal information. When you play a songs with your name & account info in it, you might enable software to personally identify you. (either current or future.) Let's say the operating system records the name and account info from your song(s), can anyone else then get your real name and account info, which you say are IN that file? Just as some cookies now reveal more personal info than one might like, ANY personal information kept by programs that might have security holes in them, is bad. Consider how many times has iTunes and Quicktime had security vulnerabilities patched in the last 12 months!


Posted by:

Steve
30 Mar 2008

I think Joe's probably right. There are even plugin's like last.fm's for your media players that send info about the music you're listening to back to their servers. They could probably get your identity that way. I imagine they probably make it impossible to buy there stuff without you having to reveal your ip address in the purchase process as well. Maybe for "verification." Anyway. Does anybody know any sites that sell only music by independent artists that rip their cd's with a good cd ripper like EAC and use really high quality lame vbr mp3 encoding and possibly even higher quality flac files as well? Thanks.


Posted by:

Devin
19 Jan 2010

so can drm free music be given to a friend. Example. I bought a digital album off of amazon. It charged me once but downloaded it twice. Is it legal for me to give my friend the second copy?


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Article information: AskBobRankin -- DRM-Free Music (Posted: 20 Mar 2008)
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