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DRM-free iTunes Music Brouhaha June 1, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in News.

Is it that big a shocker that the debut yesterday of music tracks free of digital locks on iTunes Plus was followed soon after by the revelation that they contain data about who bought them? To be sure, some fear this data could be used to identify owners of the tracks if they turn up on file-sharing sites.

A security researcher warned iTunes customers today that Apple Inc. encodes buyer’s account name and e-mail address in the tracks without digital locks, known as Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. The data can be viewed by right-clicking the track from within iTunes, then selecting “Get Info.”

Mountain out of a molehill? Ask any Internet music vendor and they will tell you in secret they hate DRM. But that doesn’t mean they sanction stealing music. Embedding store info certainly discourages people from sharing the files on a P2P network.

Although all iTunes files include the name on the buyer’s account and the e-mail address, their inclusion on noncopy protected songs is significant because some people might be tempted to share bought music on a peer-to-peer network.

News site Ars Technica was among the first to discover that downloaded tracks free of digital locks are watermarked. It suggested this could be an anti-piracy measure to track who was putting downloads on file-sharing sites.

Previously it wasn’t much of a big deal, since no one could imagine users sharing encrypted, DRMed content. But now that DRM-free music from Apple is on the loose, the hidden data is more significant since it could theoretically be used to trace shared tunes back to the original owner. It must also be kept in mind that this kind of information could be spoofed.

Ars Technica

Apple uses a technology known as Fairplay to limit what people can do with downloads. Fairplay can be circumvented by burning tracks to a CD and then converting them to another format.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog has posted a three-step set of instructions on how Mac OS X users can use Terminal to dig into an iTunes Plus file. Apple has not commented on what it plans to do with the information embedded in the music files.

Concerned users can strip the store ID by converting selections to MP3 but that compresses the file and there will be a generational loss in quality. For Mac users, here’s a way to strip that identifying marker without losing any info by compressing it to MP3:

Step 1: In iTunes preferences, click Advanced tab.
Step 2: Choose to import your tracks as Apple Lossless.
Step 3: Highlight one of your shiny new DRM-free tracks
Step 4: Click Advanced tab. Select “Convert Selection to Apple Lossless”

You can verify that your ID has been stripped using the Get Info command.


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