The Problem with the iTMS DRM

by C.K. Sample III Aug 18, 2004

I really enjoy the iTunes Music Store, because like so many other great services out there, it makes my life easier. I can, from the privacy of my little 12-inch PowerBook, find Ashlee Simpson’s Autobiography, preview the songs, purchase, and download it for my listening pleasure without all the embarrassment of walking into the local CD store and bashfully sliding Ms. Simpson’s excellent CD across to the seventeen-year-old punk-rock sales clerk who looks at me as if I am the epitome of all that is currently wrong with the world: a 31-year-old computer geek who likes to listen to Jessica Simpson’s little sister crooning “You make me wanna la la!”

Am I over-sharing here?  Perhaps…but there’s the rub: the sharing. According to the agreement that you or I must click through in order to purchase anything from the iTMS, we are not allowed to share this music. It’s not like a CD that you can lend to a friend. In fact, it’s not like any other real world product that you can purchase in the U.S. and lend to your friends without breaking any laws. Such lending and sharing has some pretty deep roots in our culture, and is supposedly protected under fair use laws. Unfortunately, the iTMS license agreement spits in the face of any notion of fair use. And just to make sure that you and I, the consumers, understand that we shouldn’t be sharing, there is an ugly piece of crippling code in each song purchased from the iTMS, which defines certain guidelines for the use of these tunes. This is Digital Rights Management (DRM).  Unfortunately, DRM isn’t concerned with your rights and your freedoms.  Instead, DRM is concerned with the big monied pockets of the handful of large companies that own the majority of the music which you see on MTV or hear on the radio.  Remember when you used to be able to burn the same iTMS-purchased playlist to CD 10 times?  Now, remember when those same 99cent songs that you spent your hard earned money on with the understanding that you would be able to burn the same playlist 10 times, suddenly, via a software update to iTunes, lost 3 of those burns?  That is the evil of DRM in action.

Let me note here that I don’t really blame Apple for the DRM. Apple is stuck in the middle between the consumer and the-guys-who-own-the-rights-to-all-the-songs-in-the-world.  These guys aren’t concerned with art or producing a good product; they just want to hoard as much money as possible and stick it in their ears.  To hear more about why DRM is evil, make sure you read this wonderful piece by Cory Doctorow of the EFF, an organization which is concerned with your rights as a consumer and is fighting for these rights daily.

Here’s some nice things to know about how to circumvent your iTMS-purchased music’s DRM.  Doing so violates the license agreement you agree to when purchasing your music, but, according to pre-existing fair use laws, you should be able to do whatever you want to with items that you purchased so long as you are not making multiple copies and illegally reselling those copies (selling the original, as long as you don’t keep a copy, should be legal).  As an aside: in nearly every interview Steve Jobs has had about the iTunes Music Store, he’s said that the best thing about the iTMS’s business model is that you own the songs, not some odd subscription. 

  • The easiest way to get around the DRM is to burn the music to CD, then rip the music back into iTunes.  The burned and re-ripped songs won’t have DRM any longer.  Make a backup of the original files and keep the DRM-free versions on your computer.
  • That’s easy, but time consuming and can become expensive over time in all the wasted CDs you have to burn (Who uses CDs anymore anyway? That’s so Twentieth-Century!). Another option is hymn:
    The purpose of hymn is to allow you to exercise your fair-use rights under copyright law. It allows you to free your iTunes Music Store (protected AAC / m4p) purchases from their DRM restrictions with no sound quality loss. These songs can then be played outside of the iTunes environment, even on operating systems not supported by iTunes.
  • Keep your eye on Jon Lech Johansen’s blog.  Jon is also known as “DVD Jon”, the guy who hacked the encryption on DVDs, releasing the DeCSS code freely online to allow DVDs to be played on Linux. Jon recently released a means to stream MPEG4 Apple Lossless files to an Airport Express, something not supported by Apple.

The great thing about hymn and Jon’s hacking is that it helps open up the iTMS to MORE customers: those running non-iTMS-supported operating systems, like Linux. This is also the stupid thing about DRM.  It’s supposedly meant to prevent piracy, but it is so easily circumnavigated (just burn a CD and then rip it) that any would be pirates are already pirating.  All DRM does is seriously inconvenience the law-abiding consumers who are supporting the music industry with their dollars.  The first record label to wrap their brains around this simple fact, and to stop stuffing money in their ears, ignoring the concerns of law-abiding citizens, is going to make a lot of money.

Comments

  • Well .. amen! I couldn’t agree more, though I prefer ABBA over Ashlee Simpsons grin

    Martijn had this to say on Aug 18, 2004 Posts: 10
  • How to share your ITMS DRMed-song without hassle or quality loss? Lend her your iPod. Invite her over, and download it to the iPod you bought her smile

    How does limiting you to seven CD burns of the EXACT SAME playlist “seriously inconvenience” you?  How often do you do that, especially since CDs are so Twentieth-Century!?  But pirates would certainly like to automate the process and burn 1000s of CDs with little intervention. To combat piracy (widespread distribution to anyone), it certainly seems fair to limit “automated” copies of the exact same playlist. (Also, the new restriction was not retroactive to previously bought songs; only to subsequently bought songs.)

    Some DRMs are concerned about your freedoms. They are trying to balance the rights of artists (and the labels, whom the artists have agreed to use) against your rights as consumer.  CSS on DVDs gave you no rights; so DeCSS may be justified. But Fairplay gives you plenty - the missing one is reselling your songs.

    Regarding DRM rule changes, I think we should be vigilant about opposing new going-forward restrictions that don’t fight piracy, but I certainly would allow them to make going-forward changes to fight piracy. Not only do artists pay the price for piracy, the law-abiding citizen does too via higher prices, restrictions, etc. Note that I say this despite having no love for the greedy, dumb labels.

    SIMPLE TRUTH: If nobody pirated (widespread distribution) content, then there would be no DRM.  FACT: There was no DRM until people started mass-producing pirated videotapes - which led to protection on DVDs.

    Sometime settling for good (Fairplay-style DRM) gets in the way of the best (completely unrestricted personal/home movement/use on any device, and resale). But in balancing rights, it may be necessary to do so until technology or people’s attitudes allow further movement toward the best.

    If you fight even the most liberal DRM today with things like hymn, you will wind up with more broadcast flags, more INDUCE, more draconian measures, and non-copyable high-definition digital content. Pick your fight carefully.

    KJ had this to say on Aug 18, 2004 Posts: 2
  • > It’s not like a CD that you can lend to a friend.

    Um…it’s EXACTLY like a CD.  Buy your song, burn a CD, and lend it to your friend. 

    No hacking required. Geeez, this stuff isn’t rocket science.

    skellener had this to say on Aug 18, 2004 Posts: 4
  • KJ,
    The 10 to 7 shift doesn’t effect me and I never said that it “seriously inconveniences” me, as your quotation marks imply; however, it does seriously bother and concern me.  Essentially, it means that Apple has changed and can change the terms under which they sold me my songs whenever they feel like after the point of sale.  And yet they expect me to abide by these terms of sale.  What’s to stop them from just eliminating all burns one day?

    Also, your sit back and deal with it strategy for dealing with DRM seems a bit silly to me.  The issue is that the DRM doesn’t in any way stop the pirates.  All it does is inconvenience (and wrongfully accuse) the law-abiding consumer.

    C.K. Sample III had this to say on Aug 18, 2004 Posts: 41
  • Skellener,

    Not really.  I mean, you still have to buy the CD on which you burn the songs to lend to your friend.  You cannot lend the purchased music without taking this additional step.

    C.K. Sample III had this to say on Aug 18, 2004 Posts: 41
  • If we’re talking entire albums, burning onto a CD-R as audio cd will not preserve ID3 tags. But if ripped in Itunes you will get all that info from CDDB anyways.

    The best way to do it may be to just buy a CD-RW and burn, re-rip. Reburn

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Aug 18, 2004 Posts: 54
  • You wrote that DRM seriously inconveniences law-abiding consumers and you highlighted the 10 to 7 shift. I’m still trying to find the person inconvenienced by that, and I guess you’re not it. The 3 computer limit was a real inconvenience and Apple changed it to 5 (which I admit could still be an inconvenience to a very few). And I admit the lack of resale is an inconvenience.

    I’ve been told that the change to more restrictive terms didn’t apply retroactively; I haven’t tried it myself.  All the songs you bought with 10 burns still have 10 burns in a playlist. Only songs bought subsequent to the change have the 7 burn limit.  So they did not change the rules on the songs you already owned. If you don’t like the new rules, don’t buy any more songs or don’t upgrade your iTunes software.  And yet for the more liberal rule, it did apply retroactively. Isn’t that fair enough?

    And if they were to eliminate all burns on newly purchased songs, then you and most others would stop buying and the store is dead. That’s what will stop them - no revenue.

    And if they were to reduce burns on already bought songs (and that could only be done with an iTunes upgrade), then I’d say, we should all blast Apple in public, AND not upgrade. But that’s not what they did.

    Have you read the Art of War? Don’t blast indiscriminately like you’re doing. For when you do, you simply convey the attitude that no DRM is the only possibility. And unless they change the whole business model (i.e. broadband content tax), that will cause them to fight you with worse measures than Fairplay. If you think there should be a new business model that is fair to artists and consumers, then say what it is; you’re being counterproductive by just repeating “No DRM”.

    The labels and studios have resigned themselves to not stopping lower-quality burns and CD/DVD rips because it is too late. But they are trying to stop any “higher-quality” music/movies from being pirated. So DRM on AAC, WMA, etc is in place and unlikely to change. But draconian DRM (no copy) of Hi-Definition is coming; that’s where the battle already is.

    Also, there are stores that sell songs with no DRM. I don’t see any of them making lots of money. Your conclusion has yet to be validated.

    KJ had this to say on Aug 18, 2004 Posts: 2
  • KJ: “I’ve been told that the change to more restrictive terms didn’t apply retroactively; I haven’t tried it myself. All the songs you bought with 10 burns still have 10 burns in a playlist. Only songs bought subsequent to the change have the 7 burn limit. So they did not change the rules on the songs you already owned. If you don’t like the new rules, don’t buy any more songs or don’t upgrade your iTunes software. And yet for the more liberal rule, it did apply retroactively. Isn’t that fair enough?”

    You’ve been told wrong, and as a result you are wrong here.  All songs working retroactively have the 7 burn limit. 

    Also, yes, I’ve read the Art of War.  I also think “No DRM” is a perfectly viable complaint considering every form of DRM that I’ve seen is a sham.  Since when do purchased objects have rights?  DRM inconveniences the customer and works on the assumption that the customer is going to try to illegally use what they’ve purchased.  I find that insulting and down right un-American.

    Here’s a boil down:  RIAA says DRM is to protect from piracy.  Problem is, DRM is laughably easy to circumnavigate.  All the pirate has to do is burn one CD, then re-rip that CD to the highest quality mp3s/AACs/Apple lossless that they want, and then they can burn multiple copies out the wazoo and continue to make lots of money illegally.  Now, the RIAA aren’t idiots either.  I’m sure they know that it is this easy to get around and any of the pro-pirates out there are doing just that.  That immediately invalidates the entire premise that DRM is anti-piracy or anti-theft.  What DRM is is a move to lock down end consumers fair use rights, thereby opening up more necessary resell and making more money at the consumer’s expense.  And you are buying what they are selling hook, line, and sinker, and that scares me.

    Also, before you reply again, please go read the Cory Doctorow talk that I link to in my article.  It covers many of the reasons why we should all be anti-DRM.

    KJ: “Also, there are stores that sell songs with no DRM. I don’t see any of them making lots of money. Your conclusion has yet to be validated.”

    Name one of these “stores.”  I think you’ll find that they sell subscriptions, not songs.  Any of the ones that I am aware of that sell actual songs are plagued by DRM, b/c of the RIAA’s involvement (except for of course that Russian MP3 warehouse which lets you not so legally buy bulk by how much data the files take up).

    As far as my conclusion not being validated yet, that’s because it has yet to be tested properly.  The same could be said about the majority of your rebuttal.

    C.K. Sample III had this to say on Aug 18, 2004 Posts: 41
  • > ...you still have to buy the CD on which you
    > burn the songs to lend to your friend. You
    > cannot lend the purchased music without
    > taking this additional step.
    > Posted by: C.K.

    > ...not only do you have to buy the blank CD,
    > but I’m pretty sure the ID3 tags won’t
    > transfer. So when your friend puts the CD in
    > to rip it they’ll end up with Track 1, 2, 3, etc.
    > Posted by: Hadley Stern

    So?  You can still lend your friend a CD of digitally purchased music (even though it comes with DRM).  I don’t really see the problem here. 

    Are you guys really that cheap and lazy?

    skellener had this to say on Aug 20, 2004 Posts: 4
  • Skellener,

    In short, yes.  I am that cheap and lazy. 

    In slightly longer terms: whether I am cheap and lazy or not has nothing to do with the restrictions which DRM places on pre-established ideas of fair use.  These restrictions are what I am taking issue with, as they encroach on our rights (no matter how minutely this encroachment is felt, the danger is that it could lead to more and more future encroachment).  It’s not about cheap and lazy verses refined and industrious.

    Your ad hominem attack doesn’t make for an effective argument.

    C.K. Sample III had this to say on Aug 20, 2004 Posts: 41
  • CK: as for this debate on retroactive DRM restrictions - the FairPlay DRM is two-pronged. The AAC files itself has a DRM wrapper, which is “unwrapped” by the DRM component in iTunes.

    The iTunes DRM component is the aspect that limits or not limits burning of playlists.

    I am by no means any expert or even remotely interested in DRM… but yet I can easily follow this bit of understanding of how FairPlay works.

    Quite simply as a consumer: I understand if I upgrade the software I have to use to burn my DRM’ed music (iTunes) I know I will have to read the disclosures and user agreements _everytime I upgrade_.

    Of course, whether it is an upgrade or not is your own personal opinion.

    Nathan had this to say on Aug 23, 2004 Posts: 219
  • As for the “buy, burn, rip” as a method for getting DRM-free music bought from iTMS… I believe you can just “buy, select menu: ‘Advanced > Convert Selection to AAC…” and iTunes will use whatever rip settings you have in the Preferences. This removes the unnecessary step to Audio CD and back to non-DRM AAC.

    I do not have any purchased music from iTMS, so someone else should confirm.

    Nathan had this to say on Aug 23, 2004 Posts: 219
  • Nathan,
    I don’t think updating will always be optional.  Especially considering that the software is so closely tied into the iTMS itself.  Chances are that eventually, my current software will no longer work with future versions of the iTMS and at that point I am forced to either discontinue using the store or cave in to the retro-fit on the DRM.

    Also, you cannot convert songs purchased from the iTMS from within iTunes, as you describe in your second comment.  Again, the DRM gets in the way of this harmless and completely legal functionality. 

    C.K. Sample III had this to say on Aug 23, 2004 Posts: 41
  • Ahh, that’s too bad - I thought I had read somewhere at some point at time you could re-compresss/rip from within iTunes, thereby skipping the burn to cd step.

    I agree at an ethical level that buying into Apple’s DRM (and anyone’s DRM really) severely limits your own legal use of that music. You are at the mercy of that company. You can only hope they will be good stewards of your trust, just as they can only hope you are good citizens and do not illegally share or distribute. Its a two way street.

    The only way out of this is to make a DRM method (whether its Fairplay or something else) a standard. It is ridiculous to have more than one DRM standard. It’s shades of Betamax vs. VCR, of DVD vs. DIVX. Proprietary anything is just not going to cut it ever again.

    Nathan had this to say on Aug 24, 2004 Posts: 219
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