Is Apple’s iTunes Store DRM too restrictive?

“The iPod-iTunes combination is the very definition of a digital walled garden, at least so far as commercially downloadable music goes. Sure, you can rip music from your personal CD collection into unprotected formats like MP3, even legally make copies for personal use. But when it comes to iTunes, there’s no digital equivalent of buying a CD and taking it home, knowing it will work with whatever brand of CD player you have,” Arik Hesseldahl writes for BusinessWeek.

Hesseldahl writes, “Songs you buy from iTunes won’t play on your MP3 player from Toshiba, Samsung, Sony, SanDisk, or anyone else. Well, they’re not supposed to anyway. The fact is, you can burn the iTunes songs to an audio CD, then re-rip them as MP3s and make them freely available to any player you choose—not that I would advocate doing such a thing, of course.”

Hesseldahl writes how he thinks “the iPod should evolve over its second half-decade, and how iTunes and the rules that govern it should change. The company has sold some 70 million iPods and between two and three billion song downloads, and it’s time to consider the future of music delivery and Apple’s role in building that market… The world is clearly in need of a universally playable digital format that protects the rights of artists and recording labels. As the most successful vendor of digital music, Apple is currently in the position to start the discussion about how to get there.”

“Now may not be the time. IPod sales still account for 40% or so of Apple’s revenue, and let’s face it, the iTunes Store exists to sell iPods. But the time for a universal format is soon coming, because millions of frustrated digital music consumers, including some iPod owners, will demand that a downloaded song be as universally playable as a CD is today,” Hesseldahl writes.

Full article here.
Steve Jobs is many things, but stupid he’s not. Apple will license FairPlay when and if the time comes. For now, Apple’s iTunes ranks as one of the least restrictive services with relatively liberal usage terms and a system that, oh, by the way, doesn’t exclude tens of millions of Mac users. iTunes works for both Macs and Windows users, while the iTunes also-ran music outfits, those still in business, are restrictively Windows-only. If you don’t like DRM, blame the content owners, not Apple.

Apple should not license FairPlay until it makes business sense, not because some writer or competitor thinks it would be nice. This ain’t a commune, it’s capitalism; you’d think BusinessWeek would grasp the concept.

While Apple holds considerable market share in both devices and online services, it makes no sense at all to gift market share to competitors. When and if some competitor shows some meaningful strength, then Apple can use FairPlay licensing appropriately. Then FairPlay, already long the de facto standard for legal online music, will become the universal DRM standard.

When someone makes a real content service (with a desirable library) that includes Mac users instead of excluding them and also begins to take share from iTunes, then we’ll begin to think about the possibility of Apple licensing FairPlay.

Related articles:
Microsoft Zune intensifies chaos in Apple iPod+iTunes also-ran market – October 16, 2006
Apple’s vs. Microsoft’s music DRM: whose solution supports more users? – August 17, 2005
The de facto standard for legal digital online music files: Apple’s protected MPEG-4 Audio (.m4p) – December 15, 2004


  1. fairplay is bad for customers. period. no amount of apple loving can justify the limitations it puts on music.

    itunes files will be the eight-tracks of music distribution. one day we’ll all sit around and remember how we used to have those…

  2. I just purchased Lego Stars Wars for my son’s GameBoy. But we already own a copy of Lego Star Wars for the Mac.

    Why do I need to buy two versions of the same game? Obviously Apple is not the only “restrictive” vendor in town.

  3. As a consumer, you should know what you’re buying. If you don’t like the DRM on iTunes, go buy a CD and put it on your iPod. That way, when you lose your mind and switch to a Zune, you still have your music.

    Oh, that’s right, if you buy a Zune you want to rent your music. Never mind.

  4. fairplay is bad for customers. period.

    No it’s not. Semi-colon. I’ve been purchasing from iTS since it started and I’ve yet to come up against the DRM limitations and DRM tracks account for about 40% of my collection.

  5. The answer to the title question from me is, yes its too restrictive. Before they started selling tv shows and movies I thought it was perfect, but now that iTunes actually sells tv and movied content I need, I want, to be able to burn at least one DVD of the movies or programs that I buy – period. When I can do that then my vote will change back to, NO, iTunes music store is NOT too restrictive. I realize that much of the way things are is based on what the content providers are willing to do, but still… I need to be able to burn at least one playable DVD of my purchased video content.

    On one of MDN’s points: “…while the iTunes also-ran music outfits, those still in business, are restrictively Windows-only.” Exactly. And even the Windows only brands are not sure what parts and components of Windows they are going to be compatible with – Zune – Need I say more? What a nightmare for poor Windows consumers.

  6. Effwerd,

    You haven’t come up against DRM restrictions because you have chosen not to. Can you play your music on a ny other mp3 player? No. Ok, you’ll probably say you can burn them to mp3’s on CD’s. Ok, so why is the DRM there then? Vendor lock-in. Apple gives you the ability to move your music but they sure make it hard as hell to do it. Why do I have to burn it to a CD? Why can’t we export it to mp3 right on the hard drive? Because Apple wants to keep you locked in to their hardware.

    Hey, I buy a few songs from iTunes. But I am not in denial about what the DRM is about. I know for a fact that I would buy more music from iTunes if it didn’t have DRM on it. I just wish the RIAA wasn’t as stupid as it is.

  7. Most MP3 players will not work with a Mac or a Linux OS. Millions of computer users are upset with their limited MP3 player choices. All MP3 player manufactures should be forced to ring out Universal MP3 players that work with every OS imaginable.

  8. DRM is a necessary evil thanks to the RIAA. Windows Media DRM is even more restrictive than FairPlay is, so I don’t know where this Apple bashing is coming from. And like others have said, if you don’t like DRM, then rip your own CDs then. Apple builds that capability into iTunes, so there is nothing to stop you from doing that.



    Of course, Steve Jobs is the one who stated:
    “If you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own.”

    So… well… um…

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