Joi Ito's Web

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Cory blogged about this, but beware if you are buying music on iTunes and are prone to buying new Macintosh computers. You can only authorize three machines to play your iTunes purchased music. I recently bought a new machine and gave my old one to a friend. I have a desktop and my original PowerBook is being used by my aunt. So I had to track down my friend and have him log in as me and "deauthorize" the machine before I could authorize this machine. Which basically means, you have three lives. Lose/wreck/give away/sell three Macs and your iTunes library is no longer available, although there appears to be a "contact customer service" method of dealing with deauthorizing computers you don't have access to. Anyway, like Cory, I feel like I'm being punished for buying lots of Macs and lots of iTunes music. I can see their point, but this is yet another example of how DRM will always suck from a user experience point of view.


You guys are not average users. For most people I don't think this is an issue. There is something else going on though. I'm a music junkie and purchase lots of music on both iTunes and the old fashioned way. I went iTunes crazy over the last few months and have probably about $1,500 worth of music since the service launched. My pace has slowed down though and I find myself buying cd's again instead. Maybe I'm a Luddite but I like the sense of permanence I get from a cd. I back up religiously but somehow my digital music just seems a bit too ephemeral. One press of a button, one crashed hardrive and its all over.

"You guys are not average users. For most people I don't think this is an issue."

You know, that's a dismissal, not an argument.

First of all, we may be edge cases, but we're the kind of edge cases Apple should want to encourage: people who buy new PowerBooks every time they're announced.

Secondly, early adopters are predictors of behavior down the line: if Apple wants to know what its average user experience will deliver in two years, it needs to look to its edge cases today.

Finally and most importantly, the thing that differentiates Joi and me from average users isn't that we buy new CPUs, but that we do it quickly. Average computer users upgrade. Not as quick as me, but they do it. And once they've done it three times, they're screwed.

Another important note: the times at which this failure mode crops up are twofold:

1. When you have just bought a new Mac -- turning a $2000-$3000 purchase from something to be happy about into a pain in the ass.

2. When you have a theft, damage or related catastrophe, rubbing salt into the already stinging wound.

This is a business-critical issue for Apple, and if they don't fix it, they're scr0d.

BTW. I also got the white spots crap...

Jason, also, if I'm not mistaken... Apple Store keeps track of music you've purchased and keeps iTunes in sync. If you lose your library, I *THINK* iTunes will download your purchased music for you.

But I agree with Cory. Take care of your edge, your your center will soon be your edge. ;-p

A coworker was stuck in a similar situation with Walmart's DRM: he can play and burn the files from the machine he purchased the music from, but unfortunately his laptop was stolen.

I think I have a solution: *capped* per-use licensing:

This has worked for me:

1. Buy music from the Apple Music Store
2. Burn an Audio CD of the purchased music.
3. Rip the Audio CD on additional Macs
4. Enjoy!

I would appreciate it if someone would verify this.

That works, if you're willing to re-key the metadata for all your ripped tracks on the new machines (or if you only buy and burn whole CDs) (or if you're willing to have a giant library of music called TRACK 01, TRACK 02, etc)

I believe that if you do what Austin says, iTunes will be able to download the Track information from CDDB, just like it does when you rip a normal music CD...
So I dont believe that metadata is a problem (except maybe album art).

The problem in burning and then re-ripping is probably the loss of quality.

However you guys should know that VLC ( recently supports playing AAC files without the need to authorize your computer.

I dont think you can play the files in iTunes yet, but its still a first step. Before long, you'll be able to strip the DRM completely, I am sure of it.

So I guess for a while, we'll win, and then they'll start embedding DRM directly into the music so once you remove the DRM you'll end up with crippled files, kinda like macrovision on VHS, I guess... (wait, maybe I shouldnt give them any ideas?)

Of course, using the VLC method might make you officially pirates.. In the end, having DRM is just a temporary barrier, because there are always crackers to crack it... It just takes time, and in this case, FairPlay's time has almost run out.

A few quick things:

1) No, if you loose your music (i.e. your computer and iPod die), you're out of luck. Apple won't let you re-download anything for free. So make sure you back up your Purchased Music playlist.

2) DRM does suck, but Apple's customer support was really great to me . I mentioned that I had authorized my account on two other computers I no longer had access to (one Windows, one Mac), and explained the situation. Right away they cleared the authorization on all three machines and I was free to set things up again. It's annoying that the limit is 3, but this customer experience is FAR better than Amazon/Adobe Reader for other DRM'd content.

3) DRM sucks. :) My girlfriend has a Nike MP3 player she loves to use at the gym. No OS X support. She has to burn Protected AAC files to CD, re-encode as MP3 , then launch VirtualPC to be able to sync this thing. VirtualPC irritance notwithstanding, having to go and break the DRM just to be able to use the media legitimately is a bit annoying.

I don't see how CDDB gets the track titles for you if you burn a CD. I thought they used the CD ID # for that... ?

If you burn a CD with the songs in the same order as the original CD then CDDB will return the meta data without issues.

However Cory is right my approach is only slightly more convenient when you are purchasing full albums. :(

Apple needs to fight harder to force the labels to loosen these copy protection measures. I still have vinyl records from 30 years ago that I trot out every now and then for amusement. I can't imagine anyone going through only 3 computers over the next 30 years. So clearly we're sacrificing some of the rights we've had in the past and not making piracy any less prevalent.

I gotta go with Jason on this one. You two have luxury problems. I wish I could afford to buy a new Mac everytime they are announced, but I have to get at least 3 years out of a Powerbook to justify the cost. On that average, it would be close to a decade before I would run into this "problem". Maybe the edge will become the core and the majority of Apple's customers will start upgrading systems more frequently, but somehow I doubt this will ever be an issue to more than a vocal minority.

After mistakenly erasing a beta install of the OS with some ITMS authorizations tied to it, Apple cleared my account and I re-authorized my Macs again.

Not good if your mom in Nome is tied into the authorizations, but if she is then you are abusing the system and deserve the extra hassle / loss of service.

Maybe I'm being dim here, but doesn't iTunes -> Advanced -> 'Deauthorize Computer' remove a Mac from your pool of three?

Personally, I'm miffed that it's so hard to move metadata and playlists from an old Mac to a new one, and that brainwiping the iPod is necessary. But that's a step on from 'not being able to play the music.'

Jonathan: not if your mac isn't working or the partition was erased or you don't have access to the machine or . . .

I had a similar problem, but all on the same machine. First my ibook "broke" and Apple (to their credit) fixed it for me free and very quickly, but somehow my machine had lost its authorization. I had to authorize it again and now I'm at 2 used computers. Finally when I upgraded to Panther I didn't de-authorize and this cost me another used computer. Thankfully, Apple was really nice about the whole situation and reset my count for me, but I still don't like how I have to rely their kindness to use what I purchased and own.

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iTunes and DRM from tech/net jottings
March 28, 2004 6:08 PM

Cory blogged about this, but beware if you are buying music on iTunes and are prone to buying new Macintosh computers. You can only authorize three machines to play your iTunes purchased music. I recently bought a new machine and Read More