Apple Drops DRM: the Expanded Edition

Apple is really going out with a bang – out from attending the Macworld conference, that is. In a last hurrah, the company has decided to drop Digital Rights Management (DRM) from all 10 million plus songs on iTunes by the end of this quarter.

Back when iTunes first appeared six years ago, it quickly caught on with audiophiles everywhere... much like how most things from Apple catch on and become epidemic very fast. Originally, iTunes customers could only obtain DRM-Free music via iTunes Plus tracks, which was heavily limited since only one large label offered tunes: EMI (there were many small labels available however).

Now Apple plans to unleash over 10 million songs from its available database to its iTunes customers, all DRM-Free. Every track will be of iTunes Plus quality, but here is the catch: with DRM gone, the new system will be tier based. What does this mean? Read on. 

iTunes will now have a unique, three-tier pricing system in place for music. Starting on April 1st of this year, tracks will cost $0.69, $0.99, and $1.29. How exactly these prices are determined remains a mystery, but it is probably safe to assume that $0.69 will be applied to older cataloged tracks, while $0.99 and $1.29 will be applied to increasingly popular tracks ($1.29 being the new or most popular tunes more than likely).

All record labels carried by iTunes will be DRM-Free, EVERYTHING. This surprising turn may bring a sigh of relief from many people, however it may cause a disturbance for others (see below about upgrading your existing library). But what about other sites on the web that are already offering DRM-Free music, such as Amazon? What is the difference then? None, figuratively. Technically speaking though, Amazon offers MP3 while iTunes offers AAC.

How many tracks are currently available DRM-Free on iTunes? About 8 million apparently, the rest will become available as DRM-Free over time – by the end of this quarter.

And what about current tracks that customers have already purchased? Yes, you can have DRM removed from them as well, but this too will cost you money. iTunes will offer the ability for its customers to upgrade their current library at a cost of 30 cents per song, for currently qualifying songs – 60 cents per qualifying video.

That being said, it is hard not to think that this could be a "snatch and grab" cash cow for bad times. The way the economy is right now, everyone is looking for fast money. iTunes has been extremely successful ever since its conception, so what sparked the DRM-Free movement? Obviously not to make customers more happy, because the numbers alone say that kind of movement isn’t really required at this point in time. But the economy says otherwise. Something to think about? Maybe.

Ultimately, this is just one of the movements from Apple in their flurry of eye openers since they will not be attending Macworld again next year. Check out our Macworld article, Apple’s Final Show for more!

More from CES 2009

  • one-shot
    This is good news. I did a paper about piracy for a technology class and mentioned Apple and their DRM infested music they put out. This is a good thing. I'm not sure if any of us like DRM on our products.
  • outlw6669
    About damn time Apple!
  • noahjwhite
    This is very good news. I think apple should take it a step further and allows iTunes itself to remove the DRM from it's existing library. As it is... it's not that hard to remove the DRM using 3rd party apps.
  • saucysoup
    Steve Jobs has said a long time ago (1yr? +?) that he thought DRM-free was the future of the record business, so I wouldn't be convinced that this was significantly motivated by quick cash. It was coming either way.

    Price brackets are also a smart move; for pretty much every product on the planet there are tiers of "quality" (in this case higher quality means more recent or more popular) and therefore price (see: the hardware reported on this site, for instance). It's a tried and true principle that is a win-win for the consumer and the retailer.

    Is it really that "hard not to think" this is a "snatch and grab cash cow"? Is this a news report or a blog? Or is there a difference anymore?
  • Anthony20022
    About damn time Apple!
    More like about time record labels. They have been holding out trying to regain some control on itunes by letting amazon, walmart, etc sell high quality DRM free music while forcing Apple to sell with DRM. Apparently to get this, Apple had to compromise and give the record companies the tiered pricing structure they've been wanting for a long time.

    I think apple should take it a step further and allows iTunes itself to remove the DRM from it's existing library.

    They do. It costs 30¢ per song. They entire upgradeable library must be upgraded at once (no picking and choosing songs).

    This article from Macworld will tell you anything else you may want to know about this.
  • Lpusedyou
    Noahjwhite: are you referring to programs like tunebite? Or are there actually programs that strip the DRM itself from the file? If so, please share :) Don't get me wrong, I love tunebite I'm just saying if there are programs that strip the DRM from the file instead of just playing back the file and recording it that'd be awesome.
  • gwellin
    I remember when I saw the add from Dell saying, "for an extra fee you can get your pc without all the trial software". This is no different. You can PAY to remove the DRM on your songs!!!!WTF You paid for the song already, you should be able to have removed at no extra charge. I have friends that have over 1000 songs from iTunes. That is over $300 to remove the DRM on songs they already own. I'm glad I never bought anything apple.
  • Caffeinecarl
    It's about time! I've been wanting to get away from the Apple empire for a while now since in recent years, they've even got Microsoft beat when it comes to all the anti-consumer red tape they have. As far as having to pay to have the DRM stripped from my files (and the bitrate doubled) nobody ever said that a divorce from Apple would be cheap, but after I get the DRM off my tracks, I plan on taking my hard earned money and getting a different MP3 player with uber capacity. Even after paying to have the DRM stripped off my songs and buying another MP3 player (Zune maybe) I'll still have paid less than I would have if I'd have bought an ipod and much less of my money will have gone to Apple.
  • del35
    That is nice to hear, but it doesn't move me closer to Apple. I still hate Apple's proprietary handcuffing and its hordes of technologically dumbed-down fanboys that bend over to receive Mr Jobs' every junk piece.