DRM-free iTunes music embedded with owner's email address

Posted by Rick C. Hodgin

Cupertino (CA) - Apple's DRM-free iTunes service is proving to be completely DRM-free, meaning any player can play new music downloaded from iTunes in the AAC (.m4a extension) iTunes Plus format. However, the DRM-free versions still have internal tags which link the music purchase back to the purchaser.





While Apple's DRM-free music can technically be shared with friends (it's capable of being played on their equipment), inside the .m4a data file is the email address the original purchaser had on file with Apple when they bought the song. This allows each track to be identified back to the purchaser.

The contents of the .m4a file can be scanned to see if your email address is contained within. Load the file into any text editor. It will likely display a host of non-readable characters. However, use the search function and search for part of your email address. If it is found the editor will display that portion of the file. This will verify if your iTunes music is personally encoded.



There is no word yet on whether or not this email tag can be overwritten, changed, removed, or even if there is other hidden information in the .m4a file that links back to the original owner. However, this does show that DRM-free does not mean "completely free, therefore distribute as you like."



Under the terms of Apple's EULA, songs purchased by an individual are intended to be played by that individual on their music equipment, and on only up to five devices.



In regards to DRM-products, it reads in part:


Usage Rules

(i) Your use of the Products is conditioned upon your prior acceptance of the terms of this Agreement.

(ii) You shall be authorized to use the Products only for personal, noncommercial use.

(iii) Your license of Products as authorized hereunder permits you to use the Products on five Apple-authorized devices at any time, except in the case of Movie Rentals, as described below.

(iv) You shall be able to store Products from up to five different Accounts on certain devices...

(v) You shall be authorized to burn an audio playlist up to seven times.
(vi) You shall not be entitled to burn video Products or ring tone Products.

(vii) You shall be entitled to export, burn (if applicable) or copy (if applicable) Products solely for personal, noncommercial use.
... 

(x) You agree that you will not attempt to, or encourage or assist any other person to, circumvent or modify any security technology or software that is part of the Service or used to administer the Usage Rules.



Apple has provided DRM-free content to its iTunes users as iTunes Plus. That new content removes clauses (iii) through (vi) above - allowing for reasonable personal use. However, the DRM-free version does not give anyone the right to distribute that music, nor does it give anyone the right to circumvent the usage rules set forth in the EULA agreed to when purchased - and that includes modifying the file's contents to defeat that portion of the security (by removing the email address) or sharing the file with others.

This is true because EULAs are binding contracts between the buyer (consumers) and seller (Apple and iTunes). If they are violated, it is a violation of the law. If consumers do not like that reality, they do not have to buy iTunes songs.


[Personal thoughts from author: I realize what I've written above may sound harsh. However, very few users realize that when they click "Accept" on an EULA, regardless of whether or not they believe a particular usage model should apply, they have actually agreed to abide by the terms set forth by the seller - in this case Apple.

It is the nature of DRM to protect (financially) the seller. And yet we (the consumers) still have ultimate power or authority in the matter. We don't have to buy DRM-encoded content. If we stopped buying it, they'd stop pushing it. It's that simple because it would affect them financially. And yet, the companies know we want content and instant gratification - and we prove them right constantly by buying what we really don't want were all things equal. It's for that very reason they provide DRM content today, even in this new form which is not truly DRM, but still ties back to each person individually.

DRM protects their interests, and they know we won't go without. They know we'd rather have that which they give us, in the manner they give it to us, than for us to stand up and hold to our personal standards regarding our right to use that which we pay for in whatever way we want. In my personal opinion, this is a very sad reality - and it's one very few people are aware of - at least in my experience.

"DRM free" iTunes Plus content is a new animal. While it affords many of the same rights available in wholly owned content, it is still governed by Apple's Terms. Users can only use their content on their own personal devices, making copies for themselves only. It is still not a true form of "No DRM," but it is close.]