What is DRM-Free Music?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and it describes a variety of techniques used to limit the rights of people who purchase various digital recordings. Such recordings include things like songs or albums, books on tape, and movies. The goal of DRM is to make sure that piracy is prevented, but many people who purchase these things find it frustrating to deal with the various DRM technologies and look for digital recordings that can be purchased without limitations. In particular, many people are interested in DRM-free music, which allows them to listen to music on any device they choose, for as long as they want, and at any time.

Digital Rights Management is intended to prevent recording artists from losing money through music piracy.
Digital Rights Management is intended to prevent recording artists from losing money through music piracy.

Some of the DRM techniques common with music are limiting the devices on which music can be played, or limiting the number of devices onto which music can be loaded. Alternately, certain downloaded music or purchased CDS might require email verification in order to load music onto things like MP3 players. Other techniques leave what is called a watermark, which can identify things like the original purchaser of the music or the place at which it was purchased.

There are a number of online stores that now sell DRM-free music. These include the Apple store, Amazon, and Napster. Not all music purchased from stores like Apple is free of limitations, and customers may need to look to make sure they’re not also getting some limits when they buy a song or an album. Other companies like Napster aim to sell only DRM-free recordings because they believe that people have a legitimate right to make multiple copies for personal use of songs or recordings and to use them for an unlimited time on any medium.

Though a strong argument can be made that recording artists lose money when people copy their music and distribute it to others, there are some legitimate and innocent uses for DRM-free music. Many people have families and may have multiple MP3 players or computers in a home. Those who search for DRM-free music argue that family members living together should be entitled to listen to purchased music whenever they wish, and that it makes no sense to have to buy a song several times so that all family members can listen. Even a person living alone might want to copy a song for use on different MP3 players, several computers, and other listening devices. When the music is not DRM-free, this procedure can be complicated and may be restricted.

A certain innocence exists too about sharing music with one or two other people. Boyfriends and girlfriends who make mix tapes for each other to share their feelings might be limited by DRM technology. An argument can be made too, that sharing music, especially with just a few people, is free promotion for artists, and may increase sales, interest in concerts and interest in music when it appears on the radio. Some musical artists don’t believe in or endorse using DRM technology and make all of their music DRM-free music.

There are certainly legitimate concerns about file sharing when people use it to make a profit and sell the work of artists at a cut rate or simply deliver it free in large scale to lots of other people. However, when DRM technology cuts into the ability to simply use the music on different players or change it to different forms, it can be a hassle and makes people feel like they’ve merely rented a song instead of purchasing it. Most who support DRM-free music believe that once purchased, there should be no limits on how a song is played or used in the future.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@ Highlighter- DRM removal software can solve many problems people face with managing their DRM protected music library, but users should be cautious. Some of the software downloads available are riddled with malware. Downloading freeware that is of questionable legality (I hate DRM, but I am not sure how legal DRM crackers are) always runs the risk of exposing your computer to viruses, worms, and spyware.

I have always purchased my music from DRM Free sites like Amazon, Walmart, eMusic, and AmieStreet. From these sites, I can get music from major labels and indie labels, all without having to deal with the hassle of DRM music. The music is out there, and the artists want people to have it. The labels are really the ones that are pushing the DRM scheme (Although labels like EMI, Sony, and Universal are dropping DRM or some DRM).


For those who are really concerned about digital rights management on the music they purchased, they can purchase DRM remover software. Dealing with DRM can be frustrating, especially when purchasing a new device, or trying to create a CD that you can take on a road trip, but DRM remover software can remove certain DRM technologies.

It should be up to the consumer to be honest with the use of property that they purchase, and honestly, the majority of consumers are honest. People can find most DRM remover software free online. Simply search for the software that cracks the DRM on the music interface you use.

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