Apple iTunes Store Goes [Mostly] DRM-Free

In October of 2007 I wrote a fairly detailed comparison of Apple’s iTunes Music Store and Amazon’s then-new MP3 store. My verdict was not too clear—Amazon’s MP3 store won kudos for its DRM-free 256-bit MP3 files that could be played in almost any jukebox software and on almost any portable player. iTunes, however, had a much wider selection of songs.

iTunes was the first digital music store to offer unencumbered, DRM-free songs, but only from the EMI record label and (until Amazon MP3 entered the market) at a higher price. After Amazon MP3 entered the market, these so-called ‘iTunes Plus’ tracks came down to the standard $0.99 price but were still offered only from EMI artists. iTunes had become a confusing mish-mash of DRM-encumbered and unencumbered tracks and, as a result, I did most of my music buying through Amazon MP3.

Well, iTunes is [finally!] back in the game. At today’s MacWorld Expo Keynote, Apple VP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller announced that ‘iTunes Plus’ DRM-free tracks would become the standard, with most songs available without DRM immediately and the store going completely DRM-free within three months. Users can also ‘upgrade’ their previously-purchased tracks to being DRM-free, but personally I removed the DRM myself from those tracks using my legitimate fair-use rights and have successfully avoided that unnecessary expense.

Regardless, this is good news for music lovers like myself. We now have renewed competition between Amazon MP3 and Apple iTunes for our music dollars, and neither will lock us in to a DRM-encumbered universe. We can own our own music again. The music industry might just survive after all, if only they would start supporting the good artists again ;-).

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.