Apple, FairPlay, and Digital Rights Management

The middle ground

QuickTime is at the heart of Apple’s FairPlay DRM

If you have read our other pages on DRM and are beginning to see a trend, you are correct. For each of the major digital media companies there is an audio format. For every format there is a way to protect it and the files it employs. Finally, most have a specified player. Apple, as you might expect, is no exception. In the universe of iPods, from the glowing green ones to the girly purple, Apple has it all. It distributes its files to the popular iPod using iTunes, an online music store, which almost exclusively doles out AAC, or the Advanced Audio Coding format. Most of these files are playable on QuickTime, a media network that has existed under Apple's tutelage for years. The great chain would be broken if it weren't for FairPlay, Apple's Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology.

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Apple certainly has a good system going for itself. The iPod is not the most popular device this year, or the last. No, it is the most popular device of this generation, and it is re-writing the rules on how we listen to music. It's internationally recognized and, as a result, people have come to trust Apple as a music provider. This makes iTunes immensely popular, and everyday it distributes thousands upon thousands of songs.

Is there a catch? Every time someone downloads a file from iTunes to their iPod, they are also acquiring FairPlay, Apple's DRM system.

What does FairPlay do?

FairPlay, quite simply, makes sure you won't be ripping the files you've purchased onto an ungodly number of computers neither Apple nor iTunes were aware of at the point of sale. It's not much different than Blockbuster having a problem with you renting a movie and ripping it for each of your friends. In fact, it's not much different at all. FairPlay encrypts the AAC files you've downloaded -- a digital process that enforces the limits imposed by Apple.

Here are some of the rules you'll want to be aware of when using Apple's wares (and, now that you know, putting FairPlay into effect):

  • You can copy purchased tracks onto as many Apple iPods as you like.
  • You can copy purchased tracks onto as many as five authorized computers (this number was originally just three, so consider yourself lucky).
  • You can copy purchased tracks to any number of audio CDs.

Keep in mind that the copied goods are not given first sale rights, meaning you can't turn around and sell, lease, or even legally lend that CD to someone else.

Let’s face it: the world revolves around the iPod
These are the most important rules relating to iTunes, iPods, and FairPlay. As you can see, they're not overly restricting or repressive. Compared to some of the measures being taken by Sony and Microsoft, they are, in a way, considerably lax. For that reason, you won't find much controversy or criticism when investigating Apple's FairPlay DRM. It might just be the perfect way of ensuring that listeners are playing by the rules without completely alienating them forever.

Is it really any surprise, then, that this is the iPod generation?