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How I went from loyal customer to dirty pirate thanks to DRM

In my freshman year of high school, I begged and pleaded and frothed at the mouth for my parents to buy me an iPod. Now, years later, having sunk over a grand into iTunes, I pretty much exclusively pirate all my music.

That's because it would cost me $300 to transfer my legitimately purchased $1000+ worth of music to my new mp3 player.

After years of being shackled by iTunes’ DRM technology, copyright policies, and well-marketed plastic portable music players…this is the story of how Apple finally drove one girl to piracy.


Before 2009, all music downloaded from iTunes was protected by DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology. With the digital revolution, copyright holders were finding nigh on impossible to protect and control the distribution of their property. Music, movies, video games, software…pretty much everything could be shared through the internet/P2P programs.

In an effort to dam the swell of internet music sharing, some record labels back in 2002 went so far as to release CDs with deliberately corrupted data tracks so that they could not be used in PCs at all.

In contrast, Apple pre-2009, took the “magnanimous” approach and decided that its FairPlay DRM would limit consumer music sharing through two separate encryption mechanisms: one that assigns a user ID to the purchasing consumer, and one that scrambles the AAC song file itself using a separate key. Users were allowed to authorize up to 5 machines to use their music…as long as they did it all through iTunes, iPods, or other Apple products. The result was an authorization system that made it easy for Apple to keep its consumers from copying music, but hard for consumers to break out from under the Apple fold. So much for fair play.


So what happened in 2009? After much uproar and many consumers threatening to either pirate their music or switch to Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 downloads, Apple finally decided to do right by its users and announced its intention to go DRM-free. Oh happy day, right?

Not at all. In exchange for stripping the DRM from their AAC songs, Apple decided to institute a new pricing model. Instead of charging 99 cents per track, there are now three pricing tiers: 99 cent, 69 cent, and $1.29 songs. Okay so companies change their prices all the time, I’ll just be more frugal when purchasing newer, more expensive music. But at least now I get to transfer my $1000+ worth of iTunes music to the new mp3 player my uncle got me for Christmas, right? I finally get to do what I want with the music I rightfully purchased?

Of course not. After the 2009 so-called DRM-free policy change, my $1000+ worth of music was still protected under Apple’s pre-2009 FairPlay DRM technology. For the privilege of removing the DRM protection from my music, Apple charges? 30 cents a song, even though I had already paid for the song. That’s another $300+ just to move my music to my mp3 player! The real kicker? I can’t even choose which songs I want to move – either I pay the 300 bucks or I’m doomed to buying iPods now and forever.


Now before 2009, I’d tried a couple different methods to liberate my iTunes library. The easiest method was just to use iTunes to burn all my music to mp3 CD’s. In so doing, the DRM was removed and I could then transfer the CDs back to my hard drive…then transfer all that to my mp3 player. When that proved to be too big of a hassle, I resorted to a virtual CD emulator, to create a virtual CD for iTunes to burn to. This took some finagling, but I was still determined to maintain the moral/legal high ground and not become a thief. Plus, I genuinely believed in Steve Jobs’ advocacy of DRM-Free Music; he said that he would “willingly remove copyright protection from songs sold at his company's iTunes store” if only the record companies were on board.

But now...after 2009, with the new pricing tier, the consumer lock-in, and the all-or-nothing DRM removal policy…I’m pretty much fed up with the whole Apple Schtick.

In the infinite words of Randall Munroe: “if you want a collection you can count on, PIRATE IT.”


"iPod Nakama" header images created by DeviantArt user Nyn-the-Cat. Also, hey, we don't support piracy. We also don't support aggressive DRM.