Why Are Some iTunes Songs 'Purchased' and Others 'Protected'?

Purchased vs Protected files in itunes - side by side screenshot

The songs in your iTunes library may all seem to be essentially the same. They're audio files, so why would they be different? But, if you look closely, you'll find out that even though many of the songs are the same kind of audio file, others differ in some pretty major ways. The ways that songs differ can determine where you got them and what you can do with them.

This procedure works on version 12 of iTunes, originally released in 2014.

How to Find a Song's Filetype in iTunes

The iTunes file-info screenshot.

To identify a song's filetype, right-click on it and select Song Info. The File tab shows the filetype, labeled as Kind.

The Most Common Music Filetypes in iTunes Explained

The song's filetype has to do with where it came from. Songs that you rip from CD will show up in iTunes based on your import settings (usually as AAC or MP3 files). Songs you buy from the iTunes Store or Amazon or get from Apple Music may be something else entirely. Here are some of the most common kinds of files you'll find in your iTunes library and what each one means:

  • AAC audio file: This is a standard AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) file. Most likely, you created this file by converting an MP3 or ripping the song from CD using iTunes' built-in AAC encoder. AAC is the file format designed to be the successor to MP3.
  • Matched AAC audio file: This is a standard AAC audio file, except that it was downloaded to your computer or iOS device from your iCloud account, using iTunes Match.
  • Apple Music AAC audio file: Again, a pretty standard AAC file, except that this one was added to your library from Apple Music. Because of that, it has some DRM restrictions, such as requiring an active Apple Music subscription. If you cancel your subscription, you'll lose access to the song. You also can't burn Apple Music songs to CD.
  • MPEG audio file: This is a standard MP3 file, the classic digital audio format. You may have downloaded it from the web or ripped the song from a CD using iTunes' built-in MP3 encoder.
  • Protected AAC audio file: A Protected AAC file was the default filetype for songs purchased from the iTunes Store prior to the introduction of the Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free iTunes Plus format in April 2009. "Protected," in this case, means the DRM built into the file restricts it to being used on devices authorized with the Apple ID used to buy the song. This prevents the song from being copied or shared.
  • Purchased AAC audio file: A Purchased AAC file is what a Protected AAC file becomes when it's been upgraded to the iTunes Plus format. This file was still purchased at the iTunes Store, but it no longer has the DRM-based copy restrictions. All songs at the iTunes Store sold after April 2009 are in the DRM-free Purchased AAC audio file format.

Can You Share Purchased Music?

Not only is sharing music still illegal (and takes money out of the pockets of the musicians who made the music you love), but there are some things in Protected AAC files that will make it possible for record companies to find out that you were the person illegally sharing the song.

According to TUAW, the Protected AAC/iTunes Plus songs have information embedded in them that identifies the user who bought and shared them by name. This means that if you share your music and record companies want to track you down and sue you for copyright infringement, it's going to be easier.​​

So, you should think twice — maybe three times — if you were thinking about sharing songs you've bought from the iTunes Store. If ​you do, you're making it easy to get caught.

One exception to this rule is music that you share among family members who are all set up as part of Family Sharing. That kind of music-sharing won't lead to any legal problems.