Blog Post

iTunes Non-DRM Files Retain User Data; Concerned Listeners Wonder Why

Apple may have dropped digital rights management restrictions from its new iTunes Plus range, but some consumers are asking questions about its retention of another DRM – digital rights metadata. Look at the properties for a 256Kbps AAC purchase from iTunes Store, as WBR technology director Ethan Kaplan did with his Smashing Pumpkins upgrade this week, and you will see the name and email address linked to your store account.

Could retaining user data be the trade-off for giving up rights management? Like previous DRM’ed purchases, the new files, when shared on P2P networks, would carry a breadcrumb trail back to the original owner. ArsTechnica wonders if Apple might now test whether someone playing a track through iTunes is actually its buyer. Could that capability have been an offering to a music industry still worried about illegal proliferation? A more likely – but equally unproved – theory might be that Apple, following YouTube’s lead in giving labels tools that identify copyrighted content, could turn that responsibility over to the owners.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is complaining the new iTunes 7.2 upgrade that makes the whole Plus range possible is actually a downgrade, killing off the trick with which buyers of DRM’ed iTunes tracks (still available at the store, remember) were able to convert their purchases for playing on non-Apple devices. Until now, many folk had burned them to a CD, only to re-rip to iTunes as MP3s. Playlist magazine noted that the new version of the software will not allow users to synchronize these re-ripped files to an iPod, but later added that this is a bug which has a workaround.