DRM – A Personal History – by “Brendan G”

A few years ago, my laptop was stolen. A day or so after the theft, I started to get bills from iTunes for songs I had never downloaded. Whoever has possession of the computer was able to purchase songs through the iTunes store because I had the “one-click” download feature turned on.


My Laptop (circa 2007, pre-theft)

Assuming I could just change my password and prevent future downloads turned out to be wrong. Apparently once a computer is associated with an iTunes account, the user is never asked to input their password, even if that password has changed. The only thing I could do, according to Apple, was cancel the credit card associated with the account and open a new account. The worst part? Apple had flagged my old account as “fraudulent” so I could no longer listen to backups of songs I had downloaded prior to the theft.

Now I was left without access to the songs I had purchased with my old account, while the thief was able to continue listening to my music, free of charge. Apple wanted to make their DRM system transparent and user friendly, but in the end, left a gaping vulnerability in the software that only hurt the legitimate consumer.

Had the iTunes store been DRM-free, I would have been able to recover my music from a backup relatively easily, but instead I was locked out of my own purchase. And at the same time, their DRM system did nothing to prevent someone else from accessing the content. So in the end, nobody wins.

Of course, this all happened before the iTunes store went “DRM-free”, but the experience made me reluctant to purchase anything from them, knowing how lax their security measures are. I was never a very big spender on iTunes, but ultimately Apple lost a customer because of their DRM system.

4 thoughts on “DRM – A Personal History – by “Brendan G”

  1. Unbelievable… Your experience really makes me think of the value of new music sites such as Lala (which is actually owned by Apple now too), which keeps all of your purchased music available in “the cloud” so it can be re-downloaded if someone runs into a situation like yours. Of course, Lala is also a DRM-free solution…


  2. I have the feeling that cloud-based solutions would have similar issues, though. I would imagine security would be just as lax, and although it may have been easier for me to re-download or at least retain access to my purchased songs, the auto-login feature still may have been an issue..


  3. Amazing. So you actually had to cancel your credit card?

    Of course after Apple flagged your account as fraudulent of nobody could use it to buy music, but I’m assuming the thief could listen to your iTunes still. That hurts.


  4. That’s crazy. I had similar experiences with buying music back when it had DRM. I downloaded a song, and perhaps just moved it to a different location or changed something about it, and it stopped working, after only a month or so. I tried re-registering it, but it wouldn’t work for some reason. I think that bad experience probably helped to steer me away from purchasing more music online.


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