DRM Still Strong With Apple, Just Different


Many hailed the removal of digital rights management (DRM) from the vast majority of iTunes track, a move announced and acted upon last week at the Macworld trade show.

The removal applied to 90 percent of Apple’s library, and plans are to extend it to the rest in short order. Many suspect that record labels agreed to going DRM-free after iTunes agreed to be more flexible with its pricing options, moving from 99 cents per song, to between 69 cents and $1.29.

What many might not realize, however, is that this isn’t an open invitation from Apple to go totally nuts and start freely copying, sharing, and distributing music like crazy. It’s called “Social DRM” and it makes sure there’s a little bit of you in every iTunes Plus file you download via your iTunes Store account. That little bit of you isn’t your sparkling personality or winning charm, either. It’s your email address, and it’s hard coded into each and every purchase.

The purpose of including the email address is to track anyone who might get the bright idea of uploading their library to, say, a torrent site, thus stepping well into the realm of the illegal. Social DRM, in this regard, may actually be about preventing piracy, something which is not necessarily true about traditional forms of DRM, depending on who you ask.

In case you forgot, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a nice list of examples of why Apple’s still very much in the DRM game, even if it has relaxed a bit in the music department. Among the most suspect uses: the authentication chip in newer model iPods and iPhones that third party manufacturers are required to buy a license for.

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