iTunes “album only” tracks are now DRM-protected (update: they’re not)

∞ Mon, 24 Dec 2012 · Comments

Update 26 December, 12:12 UTC: You can simply rename the extension from .m4p to .m4a and the file will play fine. There appears to be no DRM at all. I have no idea why Apple would do this since many apps and devices don’t recognize the .m4p extension, which only leads to unnecessary confusion (and posts like this), but whatever.

I recently noticed, while redownloading some of my past purchases on iTunes, that a few tracks showed up as DRM-protected .m4p files, which was odd since iTunes had dropped DRM for music back in 2009. Plus I remembered that when I originally downloaded the files sometime last year, they indeed were all DRM-free .m4a files.

After buying some new albums a couple days ago and again ending up with an .m4p, I investigated a bit and found that these DRM-protected files all had one thing in common: they were marked as “album only” tracks in the iTunes store, which means that you can’t buy them separately without buying the whole album. All other tracks are unaffected and still DRM-free, however.

This change seems to have occured fairly recently, and without any news coverage or announcement from Apple. All reports that I could find in forums (Algoriddim, Logitech, Apple, Serato) and on Twitter (@talios, @talios) are from the last few weeks.

Hopefully this is just a temporary licensing hiccup that Apple will fix soon – and fix it they must, as the iTunes store is advertised as being DRM-free:

You’ll find more than 26 million high-quality, DRM-free songs on iTunes for just 69¢, 99¢, or $1.29 each.

Also, if you want Apple to do something about this, please help spread the word by upvoting this story on Hacker News or Reddit, sharing it on Twitter or tipping your favorite blog.

For reference, below are all the albums I’ve bought on iTunes, with DRM-protected tracks broken out. Each album is linked to its German iTunes page so you can see that the DRM-protected tracks correspond to the “album only” tracks.

  • Anony mouse

    From a help forum:

    “In one of the drop down menus there was an option to convert files to AAC. So I figured I would give it a try – and voila, each song copied itself as an m4a file which hopefully is the same quality as the m4ps though I see that the file sizes are somewhat smaller.”

    • Seems to work for me. Though I don’t think iTunes would simply strip their own DRM scheme, so that probably means not all .m4p files actually have DRM?

  • Anony Joe

    Fyi, The iTunes store is not being advertised as DRM-Free. That’s what _you_ think you are reading. It says there are millions of DRM-free tracks. Not that ALL Tracks are DRM-free. There is legal room in their statement that really, a minimum 2,000,000 songs are DRM-free (millions being plural). But nowhere does it say ALL.

    My guess is the ‘albums-only’ rights holders expect these protections, for so reason. But it does seem odd. Have you purchased any album-only titles from Amazon or Google Play to see if they have suh a restriction?

    • Have you seen the update? Those tracks, despite having the .m4p extension, are not DRM-protected at all; you can simply rename them to .m4a and they’ll play just fine.

      • mrmoorey

        Thank you for this. I was confused why certain tracks were not being indexed by Sonos. After renaming them from .m4p to .m4a at the file system level and reindexing, everything works great.

        • Glad this post helped you. Hope Apple fixes this (seems to be a bug with iTunes 11) soon.

  • SO315am

    I’m so glad I came across this blog! Most of the statements here seem to be accurate. On my last two purchase from iTunes I had this same problem at random. This DRM issue is somewhat strange because it happened on individual tracks I purchased as well. So it’s not just on tracks labeled as “album only” purchases. I spent a lot of time going back and forth with iTunes and Apple support and they don’t seem to understand the issue. They just keep referring me to FAQs on what DRM is. But as soon as I get home I’m going to try changing the extension to see if works. For me as a DJ, I need to run my songs thru a BPM analysis software and unfortunately it doesn’t work on those DRM tracks. Thanks for the post!

    • Thanks for pointing out that other tracks are affected by this too. Though, actually as I corrected these files shouldn’t have any DRM at all, they just have the .m4p extension even though there’s no DRM. Hope renaming works for you. Glad this post cleared up some confusion.

      • SO315AM

        And you are absolutely correct Livven! I just changed the extension from .4mp to .4ma and now my BPM software is able to analyze and tag the songs without a problem. I am also able to drop the songs into my audio editor with no problem as well. So for anyone who is having the same issues, this here is the solution! Pretty Awesome LIvven! Thanks again.

  • JennieT

    I have just got a Sonos Play 3 and it is brilliant apart from not being able to play 2 albums (Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys) I have bought from itunes. They are marked as protected so I assume they fall into this category you describe. How do I get to them to change the extension please? Theis seems to be greyed out in itunes and I can’t even permanently delete them and then buy again – as I am prepared to do. I don’t want to have to buy ITunes Match in the hope that this works.
    Please note- I need very simple instructions!!!!

    • Try renaming the files from the file explorer instead of iTunes itself. You’ll have to find where the iTunes folder is located first – if it’s Windows it’ll probably be in your Music folder, I’m not sure where it’s in other operating systems though. So if you’re on Windows open the file explorer, go to your Music folder, then to the iTunes folder, and then simply drill down until you find the folders for your albums and rename the files in there.

      Sorry for the late response, if anything is still unclear just ask.