Setting Your Music Free: iTunes Music Sans DRM

by k0nk

I do not advocate using the information contained herein to steal music.  I simply enjoy having access to my own music on any computer I like, and I'm sure that others are in the same boat.  Fair use does not include unlimited distribution without permission.

Pepsi's recent promotion promising 100 million free iTunes songs allowed free downloads from the iTunes Music Store (iTMS), but the files include restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM) that prevents users from playing the songs on their choice of hardware, making them free in only one sense of the word.

Currently, the DRM that Apple packages into every Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) encoded song requires users to "authorize" their computer in order to play purchased music.  Authorization involves entering the iTMS username and password that they used to purchase the song, and can only be performed on a maximum of three computers.

Apple has freely announced that the iTMS exists to sell iPods (which do not require authorization to play purchased music and are the only portable players licensed to play AAC-encoded songs), not to turn a profit from selling music online.  So what do you do if you want to play a purchased song on your shiny new Dell Digital Jukebox or on a non-authorized computer while you're away from home?

DRM has always met with resistance; people simply don't like to be told what they can and cannot do with things they have purchased.  As soon as the iTMS launched, there was an immediate need for a technology to remove the DRM from purchased AAC files.

Regardless of the type of copy protection employed to restrict a file's usage, the purpose of the file remains the same - to produce certain high-quality sounds.  Without the rights management decreasing sound quality (thus making the file useless), there is no way that a user can be prevented from simply physically plugging the speaker output into the microphone input.  The problem with this is that wires can be low quality, connections aren't always perfect, and some way or another, gremlins creep into the process and the sound quality usually diminishes.

Ten days after the release of a Windows version of iTunes, a program called myTunes appeared.  Its command line interface allows users to strip the DRM out of AAC files downloaded from Apple's iTunes Music Store.  myTunes, which only runs in Windows, works by using a special driver that reroutes the sound card's output to the hard disk instead of the speakers.  Interestingly, a similar device driver was (until recently) available on Apple's OS X developer site as an example sound driver.  Changing drivers is certainly clever and performs the desired task well, but requires the user to use special software that they might not be comfortable with.

Another method of converting AACs with DRM to whatever file format is desired exists which uses no special software.  What is interesting about this method is certainly not its technical difficulty, but that it uses only tools provided by Apple on any new Macintosh system.  You could buy an iBook from your local Apple retailer, open it up, and start twisting off DRM with no additional software or technical knowledge.  The method is simple:

  1. Purchase music from the iTMS.
  2. Open Apple's Sound Studio.
  3. Choose File --> Import With QuickTime and select your downloaded song.
  4. Save as a WAV or comparable file type.
  5. Import the WAV into iTunes.
  6. Select the WAV in iTunes and choose Advanced > Convert Selection to AAC/MP3/... whatever file type you have chosen as the default CODEC.

This is reminiscent of the old days of MP3 encoding that involved a manual two step process using different programs to rip and then encode.  While tools that reduce this process to one click will undoubtedly evolve and become more common, this method is useful because of its simplicity and interesting because of its irony.

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