Digital Rights Management. If you buy digital downloads, you’ve probably encountered it. And there’s a good chance that you’ve been very aggravated by it.
Most online music stores use DRM to copy-protect downloaded music. It places limits on the number of gadgets and computers that can play the purchased music. Understandably, most people don’t want restrictions on how they use purchased music.
To complicate matters, there are different downloaded music formats. Apple’s iTunes uses the AAC format. Other sites use Microsoft’s WMA format.
Very few stores use the MP3 format, which cannot be copy protected. For example, eMusic.com has long offered MP3 files. But eMusic works with independent labels. You won’t find chart toppers on its site.
Hackers have set about breaking Apple’s and Microsoft’s DRM, with some success. Then, music can be converted to any format for listening on any player. However, this is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
DRM DAYS MAY BE OVER
There is a legal solution to DRM frustrations. Music labels are testing DRM-free music. There are no limits to the number of computers that can play DRM-free tracks. Also, the music can be converted to work with any player.
Earlier this year, Apple announced a groundbreaking deal with EMI music. EMI is offering a substantial portion of its catalog on iTunes in unprotected AAC format. EMI is one of the largest music companies, with The Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr and The Beach Boys on its roster.
The songs work with any player that accepts AAC files. Most players these days do.
On iTunes, a premium is charged for the DRM-free files. They sell for $1.30 each, compared with the standard 99 cents. Albums start at $10 in the unprotected format.
Additionally, users can upgrade previously purchased DRM songs to an unprotected format. This costs 30 cents per track or 30 percent of the album price.
OTHERS FOLLOW SUIT
Since Apple’s announcement, other online music stores have made similar announcements:
• Amazon will offer DRM-free songs from EMI by year’s end.
• RealNetworks, MTV and Verizon Wireless are launching Rhapsody America. It plans to sell DRM-free tracks from Universal Music. Universal represents Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie and Gwen Stefani.
• LimeWire, a peer-to-peer file-sharing network, plans to sell unprotected music.
• Universal Music is testing DRM-free downloads on individual artist and label sites. Stores, with the exception of iTunes, will sell Universal’s unprotected music.
• Wal-Mart recently began offering DRM-free music from both Universal and EMI. Downloads cost 94 cents, up from 88 cents for protected songs. DRM-free albums cost $9.22. Unlike iTunes, Wal-Mart doesn’t upgrade previously downloaded music.
Committed iPod owners may not care about copy protections. But there are other benefits to the DRM-free tracks.
The DRM-free tracks use less compression. Typically, music stores offer songs at 128 kilobits per second, often referred to as the bit rate. The DRM-free tracks are encoded at 256 kbps.
Compression removes sounds from music. A higher bit rate means a fuller, richer sound, but the files are larger.