What You Can Do With DRM-Protected iTunes Songs

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

The iTunes Store no longer uses DRM copy protection for songs and albums you purchase. However, you may still have DRM-protected songs in your digital music library if you bought them in 2009 or earlier. If you run into problems, such as not being able to burn a playlist or 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. What exactly can you do, or more to the point, what can't you 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 are in the AAC format. These are unencrypted and therefore don't have any restrictions. 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 play on an unlimited number of computers, songs that are protected are only playable on up to five authorized machines.
  • iTunes is the Only Software Media Player You Can Use: FairPlay DRM ties you to iTunes. You are forced to use Apple's software even if your prefer media player is VLC Player or Windows Media Player.
  • Playlist Burn Limit: If you add any DRM-protected songs to an iTunes playlist, a limit is imposed on the number of times you can burn it to CD; the limit is currently seven. This restriction can be inconvenient if you've worked on a playlist for some time only to get a message saying the CD couldn't be burned to as many discs and you wanted. 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

If you have several DRM-protected songs in your music library, you can take steps to remove the DRM protection in a couple of ways:

  • iTunes Match: Apple's iCloud-based service is an excellent way to legally remove the DRM from your old songs and upgrade them at the same time. The iTunes Match service scans all the songs in your iTunes music library. Any songs it finds that are DRM-protected are upgraded to the iTunes Plus format (providing they are still available in the iTunes Store). The bitrate of your original songs will 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 effective nonetheless.
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