Apple officially abandoned DRM for its iTunes music store more than two years ago. However, users who re-download any of their past copy-protected purchases as part of Apple’s new iCloud offering once again get files with DRM. Is the company punishing its most loyal customers?

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Apple has rolled out phase one of its cloud music offering this week, allowing iTunes users to download additional copies of past purchases on up to ten devices.

However, users that bought their music on iTunes before Apple abandoned DRM some two years ago better get ready for an unexpected surprise: Files originally bought with Apple’s Fairplay copy protection are also once again downloaded with DRM.

Apple still charges users $0.30 per track to get rid of DRM.

A number of users complained about this strange behavior on Twitter and on the web, with one stating that this would bring back “bad memories.” We were able to confirm it by re-downloading a DRMed track as well. Apple introduced the ability to “upgrade” copy protected tracks to DRM-free AACs by paying $0.30 per song in early 2009. The so-called upgrade to iTunes Plus is still available, so it might make economic sense for the company to not offer free upgrades as part of the new ability to download additional copies of previously purchased songs.

However, the fact that iTunes still serves up DRM to users who were honest enough to pay for their music may add fuel to recent criticism that Apple’s iCloud offering rewards piracy. Beginning this fall, customers will be able to synchronize their entire music library with iCloud without uploading a single song to Apple’s servers as part of the iTunes Music Match subscription. iCloud will instead match songs by title and audio fingerprint, allowing users to download higher-quality copies of songs even for those 128 kbps files they originally downloaded from LimeWire back in the day. Music Match will cost users $25 per year.

ZDNet blogger David Gewirtz called Music Match “complete music pirate amnesty” this week, and Evolver.fm’s Elliot van Buskirk said that the offering “reinforces the practice of downloading music without paying for it” (hat tip to AllAccess.com).

The good news is that iCloud’s Music Match will likely also work for DRMed iTunes purchases (Apple PR didn’t respond in time to requests for comment), meaning that paying subscribers will be able to free their existing iTunes libraries from DRM by paying $25 per year instead of $0.30 per track.

Until then, Apple’s practice of serving up DRMed downloads to paying customers more than two years after the company announced with big fanfares that it would abandon DRM serves as an important reminder: Once businesses and consumers buy into a copy protection scheme, they’re gonna have a hard time getting rid of it.

Image courtesy (CC-BY-SA) of Flickr user Ben Cumming.

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  1. What’s the evidence that the files served by “Match” won’t be DRM’d as well? I almost expect that to be what got the labels to buy into the plan.

    1. I agree with you. If iTunes Match serves up DRM free music, what is your incentive to subscribe again next year?

  2. Alex Rodriguez Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Let me understand this correctly, if I had a song that I purchased with DRM and then paid for the removal of the DRM “AKA iTunes Plus” and now re-download the song it will be DRMed?

    1. No, that should not be the case. But DRMed files get downloaded again with DRM, which in itself is remarkable. I bet most people thought they’d never get a DRMed file from Apple again.

      1. So then the story is, folks who never paid for the iTunes Plus are unhappy that they are not getting a free ride/upgrade to the DRM free music? Seems reasonable to me on Apple’s part.

      2. As I’m the GigaOMer who confirmed for Janko, how is it reasonable? If I buy the album TODAY, it’s $9.99, the same price I paid prior to DRM. If I downloaded 50 albums at no cost on bittorrent, I can pay $25 to have them all legal and DRM-free. So by being honest and buying my music, I get DRM-protected music. Had I simply torrented it, I’d have a legal, DRM-free copy for less $0.20 in my example above. That seems pretty unreasonable on Apple’s part, as well as the labels. What I learned today is that the people who don’t try to do the right thing are the ones who make out better. Piracy pays. Honesty doesn’t.

      3. Really? You bought a DRMed album. They will redownload it for you… in the version that you bought. You can remove the DRM for 30 cents a track… exactly what you would have had to do if you’d never lost the tracks and wanted to remove the DRM. WTF did you expect?

        And… really? People are complaining over thirty cents a track? Christ, how cheap can you get….

      4. @rick
        okay… except when you realize people have huge music collections these days. and something like 300 songs is probably less than a fourth of peoples’ music collections.
        so. do the math. 300 * .30 per song = $90…
        with something like 2000 songs, that adds up to $600 dollars. hows that being cheap? there goes your grocery money for quite a while.

      5. Cyndy, let’s take a look at the scenario you’ve laid out. You’ve purchased an album of DRMed music for $9.99. Now it is possible for people to purchase that same music, without the DRM, for the same price. People using iTunes Match are getting matching copies of what they paid for previously; people who bought DRM-encumbered music are getting DRM-encumbered music from iTunes Match, and people who bought DRM-free music are getting DRM-free music.

        Clearly, when you purchased the music, you had decided that $9.99 was a fair price for DRM-encumbered music. If this was not the case, you shouldn’t have bought it. It doesn’t matter what people are getting for $9.99 now.

        1. This morning, The Apple Blog covered why I’m upset better than I could in my comment. The biggest issue is that I could have stolen the content for nothing, and then gotten a free, non-DRM’d version for it by signing up for this fall’s iTunes Match. Instead, I paid for it, like an idiot, and get re-DRM’d for my honesty. Apple has now taught me that I should steal music rather than buy it. Torrenters will be able to re-download music with no DRM who never paid for it. I did pay, and I get the same DRM I got three years ago. That makes sense how?

      6. @Cyndy (and others)

        Why is everyone so concerned with what other people, who may or may not be getting “amnesty” on pirated music, are getting? Way to feel ME ME ME ME ME ME ME entitled. Getting DRM when that’s what you paid for is fair, in any universe. Stop pointing at others and screaming “NOT FAIR!” Grow up.

    2. @dan

      For one, you can always burn the files to CD and re-rip them, which would be a significant cost savings over the 30 cents per song. Or, more importantly, since iCloud is doing all your syncing to up to 10 iOS devices, DRM or no, does it matter if they are DRM’ed in the first place?

      This article is pointing out an “issue” that is nothing new: you bought DRM, you keep DRM. If the DRM is keeping you from putting the music on a non-Apple device, what does iTunes Match have to do with that? You’re not “Match”-ing and “iCloud”-ing to a non-Apple device anyway.

  3. Richard Garrett Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    To me, the headline is inflammatory and the article, at least in part, misguided. Its no surprise that music purchased with DRM back in the day will still have it when it is downloaded to additional devices. That is the way it was purchased, that is the way its been stored and that is the way its been used. As the author points out, Apple has offered a $.30 per song solution to remove the DRM. Its fair to assume that can’t change due to existing agreements with the music companies. What is surprising, and in fairness the article points this out, is that sometime in the fall users of Music Match will, in effect, find the cloak of DRM removed (in return for a subscription cost of $25 per year). That truly does sound like amnesty for pirates and probably should have been the focus of the article. An interview or two with music company execs seems like a good follow up.

    1. Agreed, when I first read it I thought that if I had purchased a DRM free song or upgraded a song via iTunes Plus it would now be downloaded with DRM. Glad I am not the only one that felt this way.

      1. I agree totally! I was completely misled by the article.

  4. David Neuland Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Wow, way to be misleading with your headline.

    So, if I have music purchased from iTunes that is still DRM’ed, with iTunes Match it will… still be DRM’ed. And this is news, how? Or punishment how?

  5. Hmm…not sure I understand. It just sounds like what you purchased is what you get. If you didn’t upgrade your old songs to iTunes Plus, you get the same DRM songs. All your existing iTunes Plus songs will still be available as DRM-free. Am I wrong about this?

    1. Exactly.

  6. How is not getting a free ride “strange behavior”? If you didn’t upgrade the songs before, why would you expect them to upgraded now?

    It would be great if Apple did upgrade them automatically and for free, but it’s bull to chide them for not doing so.

  7. David Marsden Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Isn’t it painfully obvius that this is some licensing issue that the music labels are forcing on Apple?

    Why would they want to do something that is more work for them, just to annoy people and inconvenience them. I’m sure most of that $0.30 goes to the labels, and without apple can’t legally give them DRM-tracks.

    Also, all you have to donit burn it to CD and rip it again…and your DRM free anyway.

  8. This is simply not true. Apple got rid of DRM several years ago.

    1. Janko Roettgers Chris Wednesday, June 8, 2011

      That sentiment expressed in this comment is exactly the issue here. Steve Jobs wrote in his Thoughts on Music open letter that the only reasonable way forward is to “abolish DRMs entirely,” and then Apple made a big deal out of ridding its catalog of DRM. However, this week customers are reminded by the fact that DRM is still alive and well, and that Apple’s servers still serve up DRMed songs for those who happened to buy a protected copy of a song years ago.

      1. Joshua Goldbard (ThePBXGuy) Janko Roettgers Wednesday, June 8, 2011

        I fail to see the issue here. It seems funny that individuals would complain that the DRM-encoded song they uploaded still has DRM.

        In this case, it would make more sense for them to download the song illegally and delete their DRM’d copy, but that’s the crux of the rewarding piracy issue.

        Strange business.

    2. Sorry to burst your bubble Chris.

      Apple did not get rid of DRM several years ago. What they did is move to a model where most new music purchases in the US and some other markets were typically in the DRM-free iTunes Plus format.

      In many non-US markets such as Japan you will still find large amounts of music on iTunes that is only available with Apple’s DRM. Much of that same music is available in the US iTunes Store without DRM.

      Also many promotional tracks on iTunes are only available with Apple DRM.

      And, of course, iTunes still uses DRM extensively for non-music media such as audiobooks, books and video.

  9. “The good news is that iCloud’s Music Match will likely also work for DRMed iTunes purchases…”

    Why is that likely? It seems more likely iTunes-Match will ID iTunes DRMed tracks as iTunes DRMed tracks.

    1. Watch the keynote on Apple’s Website. Music downloaded through Music Match is DRM free…

      1. First you don’t download music through iTunes-Match.

        What the slide in the keynote said is that music that is matched (i.e. tracks that you didn’t buy from iTunes but that Apple can ID as tracks it has in its iTunes Store catalog) will be made available through iTunes-in-the-Cloud and automatically upgraded to 256kbps AAC with no DRM. That would not cover iTunes DRMed tracks.

  10. That’s some weird logic.

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