This is why DRM is a Bad Idea

This is why DRM is a Bad Idea

Or, an attempt to exercise my digital rights, badly managed.

Update: I was able to de-DRM more music. It seems that iTunes Match you pay for is different than the iTunes match included with Apple Music (though they are called the same thing. Thanks Apple). After paying 25$ to free my music, and navigating the maze of twisty passages that is iTunes, I have only 20 songs left un-DRMed.

Warning, what follows is an ill-advised rant on DRM, trusting large software companies, and the perils of managing copious digital files. I apologize for the length. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.

I’m a grumpy old man

I like to own my music. I know. I’m a luddite. I’ve asked around how people store their collection of albums. Most people, even friends my age, seem to have moved to streaming services. You pay by the month to listen to any music you want. I guess I’m a grumpy old man who wants the damn kids to get off his lawn; but I like to own my music. Sadly, music I bought ten years ago from iTunes is trapped. I can’t play it in anything but iTunes. That means I can’t move it to my Roku or my own apps. It’s my own music but I can’t do with it what I’d do with the other things I own. I can’t move it. It would be like if my CDs could only live on one manufacture’s shelves, and that company decided to get out of the shelf business. I can’t buy a new shelf. The old one is falling a part. And the CDs are glued to the shelf. (Okay, my metaphors is breaking down a bit but you get the idea. )

I don’t trust the streaming services. They didn’t exist before. They might not exist one day in the future. What if Amazon gets bored? Or worse, the maker of an album decides to not publish it anymore? What if Radiohead gets a new music label? What if someone releases a new Greatest Hits collection of The Cars that has a different selection? Suddenly my copy doesn’t exist anymore. This isn’t just theoretical, as I’ll explain momentarily.

DRM is bad for many reasons, but the most practical (and perhaps immediate) reason is that you are tying your purchase to something that will eventually expire. Your use of the product depends on a company that may or may not exist in the future. We are in a period of upheaval. Even if a company doesn’t disappear, their products almost certainly will.

Products are sold temporarily, Your pain is forever

If you don’t remember DRM stands for digital rights management. When digital music stores first became a thing about 15 yeas ago all music was encrypted and only allowed to be played by approved software on approved devices. Apple stopped doing this for music sometime around 2010, but books, movies, and software is still encrypted this way. Other digital stores have their own, incompatible, versions as well.

I’ve wanted a way to manage my MP3 collection which led me down the path of creating my own mp3 app. It’s not hard. Simple DB on my web server. Web-based client for desktop. Native app for my phone w/ car integration. I might even set up an https live streaming server for a radio like experience in VR games. The point is with MP3s and M4A files (AAC) I can do all of this. It’s my music. I paid for it. later I could build a Roku app, or Alexa skill, or whatever I want. Ownership lets me do these things.

Except that the music I bought during a 5 year period in the 2000s is trapped. The iTunes protected format can’t be played anywhere but on Apple devices with Apple software. I can’t play it on the web. I can’t make my own app, even for Apple approved hardware. For a while Amazon would ‘match’ iTunes songs with their own in MP3 copies, but Amazon stopped offering this when they made the move to a premium subscription service.

Apple offers a similar service called iTunes Match, but they are down playing it in favor of Apple Music. Yep, you guessed it: a premium subscription service. Make no mistake, they wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t result in more money than selling albums. Besides, Amazon’s match only worked about half the time. Sometimes they would match with the wrong album, or the wrong version of an album. Sometimes it won’t match at all even though I could clearly see the same album in their store. This is all moot, however, because they stopped offering the service last year.

Converting my entire collection. Hah!

Since Apple does still offer iTunes Match I tried to use it to convert the protected songs to unprotected ones. For about 70% of my collection this worked. It took a while to process and I had to repeat it several times, and many times errors would occur that would disappear on subsequent processes. For the remaining third of my collection, however, would give me obscure errors without telling me the root cause or how to fix it.

After a week or so of struggling I’ve managed to make some progress. Many of the bad songs were purchased with a different account. Both were my accounts and both have the same credit card attached, only the email was different. Here’s the thing: iTunes would play songs bought from even though I was logged in as iTunes Match wouldn’t match, though. And it didn’t tell me why!. Only a bunch of internet searches turned up the answer. After converting my entire iCloud music library back to the other account (which you can only do once every 90 days, BTW), I was able to process most of the rest. However, I’m still left with a few hundred tracks that won’t convert.

This is the most frustrating part. I would understand why an entire album won’t convert. If the music label doesn’t sell that album anymore then Apple can’t convert it. I don’t like it but that makes sense. But often most of an album will convert, leaving a few random tracks that won’t. Why will half of The Cars greatest hits match and the other won’t? There is no rhyme or reason here, only frustration.

Dwindling options

So what are my options now? There are no services to help me with what is obviously a data management nightmare (I have songs scattered across four computers now, which is the problem I was trying to avoid with all this). There are some extremely sketchy apps which claim to unlock iTunes songs, but they are all illegal in the US, might contain malware (no way I’m installing those on a laptop I use every day), and most of them don’t work well if at all. And even when they do, they all claim to use an analog hole which recompresses already compressed audio. Bah.

Another option is to find the songs online using BitTorrent. Do people still illegally swap music online? Is Gnutella still a thing? Why must I break the law to do what I can lawfully do with CDs?

Or lastly I can just buy the songs again. Gaaarrgh! Fortunately some of this music my wife already owned before we met; living on good old fashioned CDs that still exist somewhere in the garage. I’m hoping I can fill in the missing songs with those. Of course, that assumes I can find a computer with a CD drive anymore. Do they still make those anymore either?

Now go get off my lawn.

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Posted January 29th, 2019

Tagged: rant