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

QAn # 7M[q|걟HAU{PzH0l)́FTranscript

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 sharing.

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

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 along?

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

Article C3052 - June 10, 2007 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

June 14, 2007 4:50 PM

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?

June 19, 2007 12:42 AM

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?

July 15, 2007 4:57 AM

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...

October 20, 2007 12:47 AM

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

January 16, 2010 4:43 AM

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.

January 18, 2010 2:01 AM

If you need remove drm protection,you can use the tools.

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