What You Can Do With DRM-Protected iTunes Songs

How to utilize old songs purchased from the iTunes Store before 2009

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The iTunes Store no longer uses DRM copy protection for songs and albums you purchase. But, what if you've still got some in your digital music library? If you've run into problems such as not being able to burn a playlist, incompatibilities with certain songs on a mobile device or another computer, then it could be a DRM related issue.

Limits Imposed by Apple's FairPlay DRM

If you purchased songs from the iTunes Store before 2009, then there's a good chance they are copy protected by Apple's FairPlay DRM system. But, what exactly can you do, or more to the point, can't do with iTunes Store copy-protected audio files?

  • Limited Portable Hardware Compatibility: Currently if you purchase songs and albums from the iTunes Store, the files you download will be in the iTunes Plus format. These are unencrypted and therefore don't have any restrictions. This means you can play them on any portable device that supports the AAC format. However, for songs you have purchased prior to 2009, you will find that most (if not all) non-Apple devices won't be able to play them.
  • Restricted Number of Computers: Unlike DRM-free songs that can be played on an unlimited number of computers, songs that are FairPlay encrypted are only playable on up to 5 authorized machines.
  • iTunes is the Only Software Media Player You Can Use: FairPlay DRM ties you down to iTunes. This means you are forced to use Apple's software even if your preferred media player might be VLC Player, Windows Media Player, etc.
  • Playlist Burn Limit: If you add any DRM protected songs to an iTunes playlist, then a limit is imposed on the number of times you can burn it to CD. This limit is currently set to 7. This restriction can be very inconvenient if you've worked on a playlist for quite some time only to get a message to say the CD couldn't be fully burned. However, you can get around this problem by either modifying the playlist or creating a new one. 

Ways to Free Your iTunes Songs of DRM

  • iTunes Match Apple's iCloud-based service is a good way to legally remove the DRM from your old songs and upgrade them at the same time. The service scans all the songs in your iTunes music library. Any songs that it finds that are DRM protected will be upgraded to the iTunes Plus format (providing they are still available in the iTunes Store). The bitrate of your original songs will, therefore, be upgraded from 128 Kbps to 256 Kbps — effectively doubling the audio resolution. The downside to using this service is that it's subscription-based. But, you don't need to pay for it every year to keep your DRM-free conversions.
  • DRM Removal Software Tools Direct DRM removal goes against copyright, but the majority of copy protection removal tools circumvent this by using the 'analog hole' technique. All this means is that songs are recorded as they are played on your computer to generate a new audio file. This is a gray area in the world of digital music, but it's quite effective nonetheless.
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