Kurt McKee

lessons learned in production


Hey there! This article was written in 2006.

It might not have aged well for any number of reasons, so keep that in mind when reading (or clicking outgoing links!).

The tragedy of Apple's DRM

Posted 10 June 2006 in apple, drm, fairplay, and itunes

It is disappointing that many people continue to purchase music from the iTunes Music Store (iTMS), without understanding the implications. In particular, several of my friends are completely unaware of a dangerous technology called "Digital Rights Management" (DRM) [1]. The problem lies with the misleading term "Rights", which doesn't refer to your rights, but rather the supposed rights of the content producer. Many of these digitally-imposed "rights" don't reflect actual legal rights, and for this reason the word "Rights" is sometimes replaced with the more accurate word "Restrictions" [2].

There are a number of types of DRM solutions available to companies. Apple uses one such solution, called FairPlay [3]. FairPlay is used to restrict the user from burning too many CDs, or copying the song to too many computers. This gives the specious impression that it is being used reasonably to keep people from buying a $1.00 song from the iTMS and then distributing that file to his/her friends. Look deeper, however, and you will find that only the Apple iPod is able to play songs restricted with FairPlay technology.

This is vendor lock-in at its finest: every song you buy at the iTMS can never be played on any portable music player, save the Apple iPod. There are software applications that can strip the FairPlay DRM off of the song, but such products are illegal in the United States, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) [4].

I've personally spent $34 at the iTMS. I had the foresight to use SharpMusique [5] to purchase the songs, so that I can play them in Linux, but if I had not, I would not be able to listen to the songs on my personal computer. My only recourse would be to buy an iPod. And when that breaks, I would have to buy another iPod. And then another. Do you see the potential problem with that?

Be careful when buying songs from Apple's iTunes Music Store. It's not a good bargain.


  1. Digital Rights Management
  2. Confusing Words and Phrases: Digital Rights Management
  3. FairPlay
  4. Digital Millennium Copyright Act
  5. SharpMusique

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