beaTunes News

Friday, July 10, 2015

The unfortunate Return of DRM

Back in April 2007, we thought it was the beginning of the end. The end of DRM-crippled songs sold through iTunes. Apple announced that songs released by EMI would soon be sold DRM-free in the iTunes store. In May of the same year, iTunes Plus was launched and by January 2009, Apple was finally able to announce that "all four major music labels—Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner Music Group and EMI, along with thousands of independent labels, are now offering their music in iTunes Plus, Apple’s DRM-free format". Undoubtedly, a great achievement.

Fast forward to June 2015. Apple announces Apple Music, as "a revolutionary streaming service and app that puts the entire Apple Music catalog at your fingertips across your favorite devices". As we all know by now, the public reception after the launch has been not quite revolutionary, but rather luke warm. Users reported installation glitches, UX issues and plain old bugs.

One thing that took many users by surprise, was the fact that iTunes Match and Apple Music share some properties, like being able to import your private collection, but are still two different services. Kirk McElhearn, wrote a good explanation of how exactly they differ. And here's the most important part:

Songs downloaded via iTunes Match are DRM-free.
Songs downloaded via Apple Music are not.

Yes, I'm afraid, you've read that correctly:

DRM is back!

How could this happen? And why isn't this all over the news? When you think about the business model, this immediately makes sense. Without DRM, people could simply download the whole Apple catalogue and freely share their files. Given the three months trial period, they could even do this for free. So in a sense, this is very understandable—but unfortunately not obvious.

So what, you might say—I don't see the disadvantage of DRM-crippled music! Until of course, you want to listen to it on a non-Apple device for the first time (the Android version isn't out yet). Or want to use a tool like BeatGauge to determine the BPM. Or decide you want to DJ with Traktor and realize: Traktor can't play protected content. Suddenly DRM becomes a big nuisance and it feels like 2007 all over again.

Naturally, other streaming services aren't necessarily much better. To integrate Spotify into an app, you have to first get approval and then use their special SDK, that does the decoding for you. But at least they offer such an SDK. Plus a REST-API for metadata access. Apple does not even offer an API for iTunes Match, which was introduced almost four years ago.

No doubt, streaming is here to stay. And Apple is most certainly on the right track, trying to meddle in this market. But so far, it has acted amateurishly, delivering a half-baked service. And many users haven't realized, that by choosing streaming, they also chose DRM. Let's hope, Apple finds a way to allow at least third party apps to access the raw audio of Apple Music—just like Spotify did.

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