What You Can and Can’t Do with an iTunes Song

When you buy a regular compact disc, you can pretty much do with it whatever you like: play it in as many CD players as you want, or copy the songs onto your computer. However, when you purchase music from Apple iTunes, there are things you can do, and things you can’t.

So what exactly do you own when you purchase a song electronically from iTunes? The rights to listen to that song on just five “authorized” computers. If you try to share music on a sixth machine, you’re told you need to deauthorize one of the previous five. The five-machine limit applies to Macs as well as Windows machines.

To deauthorize a computer, make sure that the computer is connected to the Net. Then under the Store menu in iTunes, click Deauthorize Computer. You can also deauthorize all five machines at once by choosing Deauthorize All on the Account Information page. The option will turn up only if you have authorized five computers.

If you’re getting rid of an old machine, remember to deauthorize it.

Many of the songs purchased through the iTunes Store are saddled with DRM (Digital Rights Management) restrictions, typically imposed by record labels. Such songs can be played only on up to five computers and are subject to other restrictions. In 2007, Apple started offering a selection of DRM-free songs under the name of iTunes Plus. The songs initially cost $1.29, though Apple eventually dropped the 30-cent premium. What’s more, iTunes Plus songs have been encoded at a higher quality. (You can convert songs you’ve already bought to iTunes Plus for a nominal fee.) Because of continuing squabbles with the labels, Apple has not been able to go all DRM-free. But rivals have, including Amazon, which also typically sells tracks for 89 and 99 cents a pop.

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