• DRM Explained



    We all have that friend or relative that decided, after years of Apple iPod loyalty, to stray and buy a different brand MP3 player. However, when they get the new MP3 player home they find all the songs they bought from the iTunes online music store will not transfer. This is because of Digital Rights Management (DRM), an encrypted type of digital copyright that is embedded in music and videos downloaded from services like iTunes and Zune Marketplace. Although many music stores are trying to break away from DRM many labels require songs and albums to have DRM encryptions.

    Apple and iTunes uses a proprietary DRM called “FairPlay.”FairPlay is designed to prevent users from sharing music files illegally. Although Steve Jobs insists Apple opposes DRM, he is forced to use it to maintain a contract with the major music labels. In an article titled “Thoughts on Music” written by Steve Jobs and posted on theApple website he said, “When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied.”

    However, Apple isn’t the only company to DRM their music store. It is a common practice among all the others. Music stores like Yahoo Jukebox use a Microsoft based DRM called “PlaysForSure.” There are dozens of MP3 players that are PlaysForSure certified, namely anything that is not an iPod. Look for the little blue label that says “PlaysForSure Certified” on the MP3 player box or the music store’s website to be sure. Napster use to have one of the largest collection of PlaysForSure songs, recently they have begun offering DRM-free tracks, but their subscription based service is still DRMed.

    Although PlaysForSure is a Microsoft product it is not compatible with Microsoft’s media player, Zune. The only DRM songs the Zune will play are those purchased from the Zune Marketplace.

    The tighter the DRM restrictions got, the more popular Peer-to-Peer file sharing services like Limewire became. People began doing exactly what the music labels were afraid would happen. Interestingly, there is a way around DRM encryptions which includes downloading a song or album, burning it to a standard CD, then re-ripping or uploading the files back on to your computer restriction free. This works because when a song is burned to the CD the DRM encryptions are not transferred with the content. However, this usually results in some quality loss, because when you make a copy of a copy the result usually isn’t quite as sharp as the original.

    There has been a lot of backlash from users about the restrictions placed on music they’ve bought legally. One of the loudest arguments is the purchased music now forces the user to remain loyal to that company’s hardware and people don’t like music companies spying on how or when they play their music. In January 2008, Amazon.com became the first online music store to sell DRM-free music from all four music labels. With more than three million songs in their library, Amazon managed to do what Apple had been working on for years. Later that year Napster followed suit and unlocked their entire music library.

    This monumental shift has allowed other music stores, including iTunes, to offer some DRM-free music. In the future it is likely that most online music stores will remove the DRM from their tracks. It’s been a long battle from Napster, to Apple to Amazon and back to Napster but it seems, for once, the demand for DRM-free music just might force the record labels to play nice.Until than pay attention to the fine print. There is nothing worse than buying several hundred dollars in music and finding you need to be a hacker just to listen.

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