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January 7, 2009

Free your music

Posted: 05:11 PM ET

One of the most exciting tidbits from Tuesday’s MacWorld keynote for me was the announcement of the move toward DRM-free (digital rights managed) music on the iTunes store –- and, more interestingly, the ability to upgrade your current purchased music to a DRM-free format.


If you want to remove the DRM from your iTunes purchases, it's all or nothing.

As I’ve admitted before, I'm a fully entrenched Apple fanboy.  Thus my music player is an iPod and the music I've purchased online is from the iTunes store.  That is a very limited amount of my music –- as I never liked the prospect of “renting” my music, having it locked into a particular format –- especially when I could get the CD and rip it into the quality and format of my choice for my digital devices -– and have the ability to re-encode it if necessary.

So, how do I upgrade my music?  On Wednesday a link appeared on the iTunes store (in the "Quick Links" area in the upper left corner) that says just that: "Upgrade My Library." Clicking on it takes you to a screen that shows you how many songs are eligible for the upgrade.

In my case, it’s 233 songs (more than I thought), which includes about 15 albums, for a charge of $56.70.

Am I gonna do it?  Maybe, maybe not.  First off – it's an all or nothing deal — you can’t just pick your favorites and leave all the junk you bought to rot in the DRM wasteland.  Also, I have to agree with friends, colleagues and Internet commenters who think this should be free –- or at the very least cheaper -– with a bigger discount for larger libraries.  On the other hand, as one of my good friends pointed out, 30 cents is much cheaper than if you had to buy the whole thing again, like many of us did when updating our libraries from cassette or vinyl to CD.

So in the end, “Yay!” to the death of DRM on iTunes, and a resounding “meh” on the paying more to get my music in the way it should have been to begin with.  What are you guys gonna do?

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Filed under: Apple • DRM • Music

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Chrissy   January 7th, 2009 6:17 pm ET

I love itunes, I've been using them for a long time and I was thrilled when I saw they were eliminating the DRM feature.

I don't mind paying .30 a song for the upgrade this one time. Its not completely 'fair' I suppose, but freeing up my music is well worth it.

What I do paying an extra .30 for songs that I don't actually want upgraded. I don't really need the upgrade, but I would have paid to have *some* songs/albums changed if I was given the option.

I doubt I'll invest in upgrading my current music anytime soon, if ever. But I'm happy to know I wont have to worry about it for future purchases.

Michael R McKinney   January 7th, 2009 6:52 pm ET


Two comments. Your thoughts on iTunes Plus, the DRM-free iTunes tracks, fails to mention that they are all encoded at 256 kbps, twice the bitrate of the DRM-locked tracks. One listen to songs at that bitrate was all it took me to upgrade all of the songs that I could in my library.

In the span of a day, I've actually upgraded twice, as additional songs in my library were available for upgrade following the first round. Also, I'm fairly certain that I could have selected individual purchases for upgrade. The key here is "purchases": If I bought an album, yes, I have to upgrade the whole album, not individual tracks. But nonetheless, I could pick certain albums and exclude others, rather than upgrade everything eligible.

Second, as for the price? Again, you can't leave the substantially higher quality sound out of the equation. This is a serious quality upgrade - DRM freedom aside - that is obvious even via an iPhone and decent in-ear headphones (no audiophile system required to hear the difference).

Put another way: Did anyone ship you Blu-Ray copies of all your standard-definition DVDs when they were released on Blu-Ray?


The 30 cents is a bargain just for the sound quality alone. I upgraded, and will continue to do so. Fanboy or no (and I am), I've never enjoyed music this much in my life.

Kudos, Apple.

QuickBen   January 7th, 2009 8:04 pm ET

I will continue to do as I always have: use iTunes to manage my iPod, avoid the iTunes music store like the plague, listen to Pandora for good music, search the net relentlessly until I find a $3 or $4 used cd, encode with Lame at 320, play the music with a pair of Grado's attached to the iPod. Although there are some FLAC-heads that might say the same to me, folks that listen to music at these lower bit-rates need to see their ENT and have an ear lavage.

Franko   January 7th, 2009 9:36 pm ET

IBM, Microsoft, Apple, - all missed the point
What isthe internet for ? Only music, sorting pictures, shopping ?
Just like the drawings on the ancient caves
The Internet is for (by Ellen Feiss)

Michelle   January 7th, 2009 10:19 pm ET

I suppose if I had $166.35, I would upgrade my iTunes library, but since I don't, I'll have to wish I did.

Rob   January 7th, 2009 10:32 pm ET

In the end, whether it's right or wrong, Apple is making an offer, which it has the right to do, and we have the right to take or deny the offer. Since you asked, however, I'll tell you what I have been doing for a while.

A few weeks ago I discovered Amazon now sells mp3s, without DRM strings attached, and at the same price as a regular iTunes mp3. They have a great selection, and I immediately stopped buying iTunes mp3s and now buy all of my songs at Amazon unless for whatever reason they don't have it (then iTunes is my second choice, if I must).

This "all or nothing" update business is ridiculous. It's made me all the more unwilling to deal with iTunes, considering I have 700 eligible songs, not all of which I would like to upgrade. I take it as a way to bully customers who, like me, have been loyal to iTunes for a while, and make them throw more cash at Apple. For now, I'm not going to upgrade. I'll save money by buying the songs I listen to most often again, rather than dropping over $150 on "upgrading" and I can live without the higher resolution if need be.

So actually, my hat's off to Amazon for more customer-friendly policies and better prices.

Greg   January 7th, 2009 10:41 pm ET

The upgrade for me is $266.00. For that price, no thanks. I'll either deal with the DRM'd tracks or re-rip myself even with the quality loss.

Going forward there are plenty of albums I haven't bought because I didn't want a DRM copy. So, we'll see.

S Callahan   January 8th, 2009 11:27 am ET

Apologige to use this article:

Peter D. ...I hope you've heard Obama's speech....he heard your bloggers on CNN Science Tech....... lots of the changes he has proposed were discussed on your blogs.
So I guess that means you get a 'Blue Ribbon". 🙂

Frank   January 8th, 2009 3:12 pm ET

Apple just continues to find ways to separate people from their money, and the apple fanboys continue to find ways to justify them doing so...the company should win an award for their brainwashing techniques. This is not the equivalent of going from tapes to CDs, this should have been this way from Day 1.

seba   January 8th, 2009 3:44 pm ET

one word: appletology!

Franko   January 8th, 2009 3:53 pm ET

Do not worry, all is well; Obama will relocate the cash and assests
Of the hoarders, who caused the shortage, and forced US into Debt

Obama's Greenie Apple Computer Worm
Has the wisdom of the sages of the ages

iTune, uTune, weTune
Happy Harmonizing, Homogizing - a Song Sung Green

Aleks   January 8th, 2009 4:00 pm ET

Boo hoo. Apple sold you a 128kbps DRM-locked song for 99c. You have no automatic right to a free upgrade, you accepted the offer on the table at the time. Apple can do what it likes.

Lesson learned- avoid DRM like the plague.

Michael   January 8th, 2009 6:04 pm ET

The music I didn't rip into MP3's, I downloaded from UseNet, so I never paid for 'em. I don't plan too, either.

drainz   January 8th, 2009 6:05 pm ET

So glad I avoided purchasing songs from Apple. My bill would have been a shade under two grand. Go piratebay!

Baishakh Mishra   January 8th, 2009 6:13 pm ET

Use Amazon's music download. They charge $0.10/$0.20 less and provide you songs in mp3 format. I listen all my songs in iPod/iPhone and iTunes. Hence I really don't need DRM free option. But now I can share this with my friends.

Steve West   January 8th, 2009 6:56 pm ET


I wish I could sympathize with all of you, but as someone who's lost his job/livelihood because people no longer buy music the way they used to (admittedly at a ridiculously inflated rate), the fact that you can still have DRM free libraries for a FRACTION of what you would have had to pay had your purchased all the CDs those songs were on means you're still saving a boatload of money in the long run.

As for me, I'll cling to my precious CD collection and wish I could get all my old records back from my ex-brother in law's house.

As for all of you who stole music from hard-working musicians/writers/studio engineers/cover artists and the rest of the recording industry...I hope I can get some thing from YOUR industry for free...and it costs YOU YOUR JOB!

Franko   January 8th, 2009 9:35 pm ET

How will the Emperor Obama's Global Empire listen to music ?
You thought PC was complicated ?

Johnny   January 8th, 2009 10:04 pm ET

"Meh" doesn't quite cut it for having to actually pay more money to rid music of DRM. To me, this was Apple's chance to earn back some respect for their already overly-proprietary plague of music players. They failed, miserably.

Eliza   January 8th, 2009 10:05 pm ET

I think Apple should allow people to upgrade individual songs/albums. Having to upgrade all at one time is a punishment to the big consumers...hopefully Apple will allow upgrading a song/album at a time soon. I can't really tell the difference anyway between the formats.
I love Amazon too, especially the mp3 daily deals.

Bill   January 9th, 2009 5:23 am ET

"On Wednesday a link appeared on the iTunes store (in the “Quick Links” area in the upper left corner) that says just that: “Upgrade My Library.”"

That link has always been there...

ertybird   January 9th, 2009 8:05 am ET

Apple is the new evil empire. You don't think this was part of their long term plan the whole time? iTunes and DRM is for suckers who think Apple deserves their money more than they do. Keep drinking the Apple Koolaid Apple fanboy.

Joe   January 9th, 2009 8:38 am ET

I've thousands of digital songs in my library and I've never considered using Apple for exactly that reason, the built in DRM garbage. 90% of the digital music I own has been captured from my albums the other 10% was ripped from my CDs. I've owned 2 mp3 players: an RCA Lyra and a Creative ZEN. Both SD memory based. The Lyra is a great little player – still good for workouts, but the Zen is just awesome and both DRM free.
PS DRM is also my biggest gripe with Vista.

Lexi   January 9th, 2009 10:19 am ET

The coding and security lock will come off if you take the music you downloaded from itunes and burn it to a cd and put it back on your computer.

Stefan   January 9th, 2009 10:50 am ET

Possible Solution to ONLY upgrading the songs you want:

Remove all the songs in your library, add only those songs you want to upgrade. Click the upgrade button. Then re-add all the other songs to your library.

Of course this may mean going into individual folders, rearranging, sorting, copying...etc... and I don't use ITUNES or a MAC so this may not work. Managing all my music has been a lot easier on my PC with WMP – yeah it's not perfect, but for my purposes and the way I sort my music, WMP makes the most sense. One of the best options in WMP is the right click open folder location when you right click a track – the versions of ITUnes I have used never had that feature – pretty lame if you ask me, but not all peeps need that function.

Anyway – I agree with Ben – go to Pandora or I suggest Last FM or the Live Music Archive.

J   January 9th, 2009 10:59 am ET

Not sure why everyone is saying this is all or nothing. I'm able to choose specific albums to upgrade if I would like without upgrading the entire library.

Roger B   January 9th, 2009 11:31 am ET

That's why the iTunes store is for suckers. I like my iPod, but I paid somebody named Apple for Abbey Road at least twice already. My advice is: Buy the CD, rip the wav, and stop the con game; that is, until you can live without HD.

Steven Gotts   January 9th, 2009 11:44 am ET

removing drm from itunes is a rip marketing thing. usual mac hype. In order to unlock drm you must pay extra for all music you ever bought. even if you no longer even want it, even if you delete it from your library you must pay, plus songs that went down by 30 cents receive no rebate. so basically I have to pay the equivalent of a CD for songs I don't want. just to have my library unlocked. Once again apple customers pay the apple tax.

Vickster   January 9th, 2009 1:47 pm ET

When did Obama get figured into this? ITS AN ARTICLE ABOUT DOWNLOADING MUSIC!!!! Get a life people!!!

Kenny   January 9th, 2009 8:30 pm ET

Feel lucky. When I went to upgrade mine it was $449.80. Not exactly a "special offer" if you ask me

Jaybird   January 9th, 2009 10:21 pm ET

I'm not going to give Apple more money to repair the dysfunctional method that they chose to distribute music in. It's frustrating that they wouldn't just upgrade peoples music considering the loyal fanbase and commitment shown.

Ryan   January 10th, 2009 8:51 am ET

This is not really news. . . I used the "Upgrade my library" feature over a year ago.

amy   January 10th, 2009 2:09 pm ET

why not just burn your songs to cd then rip it? great way to make more money, apple.

James Buchanan   January 10th, 2009 10:10 pm ET

Better idea.

Spend about $10.00, but five CDs.

Burn your favorite songs to them.

Use Windows Media Player to rip them to MP3s.

Stick you middle finger in Jobs' face.

Have a nice day.

Brandon   January 11th, 2009 9:47 am ET

Every Single Song i bought from itunes for years has been DRM free!! I would buy the album or songs, and once a month, i would burn all the songs i bought that month to a CD, then delete them from my computer, and then RIP them from the cd back onto my computer!!!

When you burn to cd, it burns them and then you reupload them, there not locked down. No programs or illegal downloads needed, and even though i ripped them into itunes, there still unlocked and i can also listen to them with WMP or anything else because they were ripped onto the computer as MP3 not itunes stupid format.

zombi   January 11th, 2009 9:49 am ET

it's funny. the recording industry vilified it's customers for so long, suing napster and other sites, along with individual customers, etc. now they're gonna release the rights for some of their crap? don't buy their crappy music. make your own.

Franko   January 11th, 2009 4:35 pm ET

Vickster .
"When did Obama get figured into this? ".
You are our only hope ObeWan
Save us friom the controllers (watch; America Freedom to Fascism)

BrewDaddy   January 12th, 2009 2:19 am ET

burn all my music onto a dvd, then import back to iTunes. Free.

Franko   January 12th, 2009 11:27 pm ET

Watch - LThe Colbert Report : January 8, 2008 - Lawrence Lessig

70% are file sharing criminals - sharing US culture - Soon you will be guilty of taking marvelloUS O2 and producing climate poision CO2 ?

jayh   January 16th, 2009 7:40 am ET

I will keep on buying vinyl like I always do.

andrew   January 23rd, 2009 8:56 am ET

Personally i think its a bargain, these new upgraded songs are more then twice the size at around 8 megs for 3:30 minute tracks from 3.3 megs for 3:30, and they have to pay for the bandwidth somehow right? my only peice of advice is watch your purchasing of new music, my recomendation, use your computer for a start as the ipod touch at least is still lacking the switch of many items to itunes plus. And think of it this way, for most people its 20-60 bucks, for some people i know its over 150 bucks, and they have been buying for years... its cheap for the service, and at least you don't have to authorize computers to play it any more.

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