Digital Rights Management at the iTunes Store

To a limited extent, you can share all the content that you buy online from the iTunes Store. Some iTunes Store content — such as free podcasts as well as unprotected songs and albums sold at a higher price (also known as “iTunes Plus” songs) — can be shared without limitations. However, individual songs and albums sold at lower prices, commercial movies, music videos, TV shows, audio books, and paid podcasts, are all limited by copy protection, also known as digital rights management (DRM).

The songs available in the iTunes Plus section can play on any computer or any digital-audio player. Entire albums and individual songs are now available in this higher-quality, non-DRM format, but they don’t replace DRM-protected songs also sold through iTunes at the lower price ($0.99 per song). That way, consumers have a choice. And if you’ve already purchased DRM-protected EMI songs at 99 cents each, you can upgrade them to the new format for 30 cents each.

The Apple form of DRM is known as FairPlay, and it works with the standard AAC encoding format. Protected files are keyed to an individual purchaser’s identity. Although they can be copied to and from computers, they can’t be played on a given computer unless that computer has been authorized.

Apple employs FairPlay protection for songs from many record labels, while other songs are available without FairPlay (it’s the record label’s choice). FairPlay-protected songs use the .m4p filename extension rather than .m4a for the unprotected AAC format. Apple also uses a protected video format for TV shows, music videos, and movies in the online store. These filenames use the .m4v or .mp4 extension for protected video rather than .mpg for the standard MPEG-4 format.

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