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MP3 Downloads - Is this the end of DRM on Music?

I have already posted a comment that Amazon.com was selling DRM free MP3s (Sony accuses almost all owners of MP3 players of being pirates). At the time it was only US customers that were able to buy the MP3s, but since then Amazon.co.uk is now offering MP3 downloads. Since then I have now heard that iTunes are now also offering DRM free music. So the answer is already evident, DRM on music appears to be dead.

Amazon.co.uk now sells MP3 downloads that will play in all MP3 players

You can now buy MP3 downloads on Amazon.co.uk. They are not the first company to offer this, but they are the first big company and I believe this has now had a significant impact on the industry. There are a lot of real benefits to consumers which I will mention later.

What is DRM?

DRM, or Digital Rights Management is basically a means for companies to restrict what you can do with your purchase. In this case of Apple iTunes it restricts the number of devices that the track can be on. This is about 5 for iTunes so effectively you can have the same song on 2 PCs and 3 iPods, but not any more. More importantly this means that you cannot play the song through anything other than a registered iTunes player and iPod

that has been authorised to play that song. So if you then buy a Philips MP3 Player you are unable to use the songs you bought from iTunes. A similar thing happens with songs bought in Windows Media format from many of the other companies that offer music downloads.

This has a number of implications.

This has held back the sales of music downloads and potentially encouraged illegal file sharing, as they did not have any of these restrictions.

It has been possible to get around the DRM for most formats. A common method is to burn the songs to a CD and then rip it back as MP3, but having legitimately paid for a track you should not have to "defeat the protection" to be able to play the song.

What is the difference between DRM free AAC / WMA and MP3

Although AAC (the tracks used by iTunes) and WMA (used by Windows Media Player) are available without DRM this is not the same as having MP3 files. Although DRM-free files can now be exchanged more freely some of the software and hardware will not support the different formats. To ensure that the music will play in all players then MP3 should be used. Actually this isn't quite the case as some "Free" players do not include the MP3 codecs due to patent issues which exist, particularly in the US. Fortunately in Europe we do not have software patents so there is no charge for installing MP3 codecs. A completely free format would be better Ogg, although unfortunately that is not available on some players at the moment, although it is gaining momentum.

Other DRM

Unfortunately DRM still exists in other areas in particular Blu-ray discs.

It may not be a big problem for consumers today, but in the future when we want to take our videos around with us then DRM free video will be the next.

I do hope we will be able to have DRM free Blu-ray discs in future but time will tell, currently I'm still waiting to see how things develop before even considering a Blu-Ray player.

Unfortunately DRM is now on ebooks as well, although there are some good DRM free ebooks.

Amazon.co.uk MP3 downloads and Linux

Amazon.co.uk do include a downloader that can be used on some of the most common Linux distributions. I have installed and used this on Ubuntu Linux 8.10 (32bit). It does not however work easily on the 64 bit version of Ubuntu Linux. I created an entry on the Amazon.co.uk MP3 forum - running MP3 downloader on Ubuntu Linux 64bit which includes a possible fix.

Update -- Note: I have updated the comments as this does fix does not appear to work correctly - see: Amazon.co.uk MP3 downloads for Windows, Mac and Linux (but not 64bit versions) - Errors downloading to Ubuntu 8.10 AMD64

Getting started

View the instructions on the Amazon MP3 getting started page

Once you've downloaded the files import them into your favourite player and enjoy music DRM free.


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