Remove DRM protection from iTunes tracks with iMovie HD

UPDATE: Sadly, this technique does not seem to work anymore. If there are other solutions, please update the comment thread because others may find the information useful.

A few days back I found myself perusing the iTunes Music Store looking for a few songs that I had heard via Sirius*. After completing the painless process of purchasing the songs, I immediately synced the tracks to my iPhone and went on my merry way. Because I had spent very little none of my time following the DRM vs. DRM-free music download option being offered by Apple, I simply downloaded the $0.99 version(s).

DRM-free tracks from EMI will be offered at higher quality 256 kbps AAC encoding, resulting in audio quality indistinguishable from the original recording, for just $1.29 per song. In addition, iTunes customers will be able to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free versions for just 30 cents a song. iTunes will continue to offer its entire catalog, currently over five million songs, in the same versions as today—128 kbps AAC encoding with DRM—at the same price of 99 cents per song, alongside DRM-free higher quality versions when available.

Great. So Apple now offers DRM-free tracks from EMI as well as an option to upgrade existing DRM locked songs to their DRM-free variant for $1.29 or $0.30 respectively. Want to find out which songs are offered as DRM-free purchases? Open the iTunes Music Store and navigate through iTunes Plus. Here you may find some of the songs you are looking for. You may also come to realize that songs you may want to download DRM-free are not available.

So what options do you have if the song you wish to purchase is not available? While you can always ask uncle Bittorrent, possible run-ins with your ISP and the law may not sound all too enticing. The safest – and legal – route would be to purchase the songs through the iTunes Music Store. Personally, the rule that would allow an individual to authorize a track for playback on up to 5 machines is something I find acceptable for a digital medium which I purchased. Furthermore, I hate the fact that if I am signed out of the iTunes Music Store, I need to continue to keep a machine authorized or enter my Apple ID & password in order to listen to a song.

Remove DRM protection using iTunes + CD-R/W

Probably the most widely accepted method for stripping purchased songs of DRM protection is burning tracks to a CD-R/W then re-importing back into the iTunes library. A method guaranteed to free you of DRM madness.

  • Create an iTunes playlist containing your purchased songs.
  • Insert a blank CD-R or a CD-RW.
  • Burn the playlist to disk.
  • Re-import the songs after a successful burn.
  • Deleting the original purchased tracks.

At one point, DRM Dumpster was a free solution which automated the process of locating purchased tracks burning them to disk and re-importing without any user intervention. Currently the software is provided as-is for $25. No thank you. I would much rather do the above steps myself or, make use of Apple’s own iMovie HD to do the same. Albeit at a slower rate BUT without the need for an actual CD-R or CD-RW.

Remove iTunes Music Store DRM with Apple software in Leopard

The current iteration of iMovie released with the iLife ’08 software bundle is iMovie 7.1. However, in order to remove DRM protection, you will need iMovie HD – previously bundled with iLife ’06. For those – like me – who received iLife ’08 bundled with Mac OS X Leopard, iMovie HD is a separate application download. Once downloaded and installed, start iMovie HD and ‘Create a New Project’ titled “DRM-free”. Save the project to your Desktop.

Create a New Project in iMovie

iMovie media tabiMovie media tabIn the iMovie window, select the ‘Media’ tab located between ‘Themes’ and ‘Editing’. You will notice that the top right portion of the interface now offers a media browser. Select the ‘Audio’ tab and locate the playlist which contains purchased music, or search by artist / title.

Select the DRM-laden song and drag the file from the media browser into the iMovie timeline where it says “Drag audio here to build your project.”

Share… sub menu itemIn order to export the song, iMovie requires that a visual image be associated with the audio track – iMovie thinks that it is going to be exporting a movie. Simply drag a blank image (or any other image) to the track above the previously imported audio file. Once iMovie has processed the image, select the ‘Share…’ sub menu item from found inside ‘Share’ in iMovie’s menu bar.

Expert share settings

Ensure that ‘Expert Settings’ is selected in the “Compress movie for:” drop-down menu. Selecting ‘Expert Settings’ mode will provide the options to export the file as an audio file. Select the ‘Share’ button.

In the Save as… dialogue, select “Sound to AIFF” in the Export drop-down menu, Choose an appropriate directory for iMovie to export to, title the file, and select ‘Save’. Depending on your machine configuration, iMovie will compress and export the movie project as an audio file in 15-40 seconds.

Convert AIFF to AACLocate the exported AIFF audio file and drag to your iTunes Library. Right-click on the file and select “Convert Selection to AAC”. Once completed, ‘Get Info’ on the new file, edit meta data, add album art, and trash the originally purchased and AIFF audio files from your iTunes library.

DRM-free iTunes Music Store purchases without wasting resources

The above steps may be far more tedious than simply burning to disk and re-importing. However, the process can be further simplified by creating an Automator action to replay the steps above. I think the upside of not having to waste actual media (CD-R or CD-RW) in order to burn and re-import songs is well worth the tedious process.

Side banter and miscellaneous notes

* If anyone is a paying subscriber, please feel free to comment with your thoughts on whether or not Sirius is a service worth paying for. I am currently making use of a 3 month limited trial in my Volkswagen R32 which only offers a few genre presets.

iMovie export of DRM protected files inspired by Seidai Software’s FairGame [which did not operate correctly under Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard].

Get the Best Software for your Computer

Looking for the best types of software for your Mac? There’s all kinds of free software available on the net if you know where to look. From essentials like free CD burning software to the more obscure astrology software there is sure to be the program for you!

Discuss - 40 Comments

  1. Erik says:

    does anyone know of a way to use disk emulation software like alcohol 120 or daemon tools on windows to “mount” a cd drive with a blank cd image and then “burn” a virtual CD-R with the itunes DRM tracks? This seems like it could work to remove the DRM when the tracks were then imported back into itunes. Thoughts?

  2. Derek says:

    Erik, it’s definitely doable. I know on Mac OS X you can use something like Roxio to create and mount a disk image simulating an actual physical media disk – which iTunes can then use to burn to.

  3. Joshua says:

    If you have access to iTunes on Windows, you can use myFairTunes to strip the DRM from music bought from the iTunes Store.

  4. Yong Hwee says:

    Still quite a hassle but we don’t have a choice.

  5. DRM Remover says:

    Why you guys Mac so much. There are much more DRM removing programs for Windows!

  6. […] detailed instructions and explanations from 5thirtyone. digg_url=’’; […]

  7. blueas says:

    As I payed for the DRM music file, why still limit?

    And I found Daniusoft WMA MP3 Converter could convert may DRM video and audio in a high quality with fast conversion speed.

    Is it legal to remove DRM?

  8. Alan says:

    I’m with jessemoya, I don’t think anything of paying my Sirius sub anymore. I love the variety of music and it lets me listen to new groups that I would never have heard about otherwise. Go ahead and get it, you won’t be sorry and if you are, they’re very easy to cancel. They don’t harass you or anything (I know because I did this about a year ago to try XM. Came straight back to Sirius after a few months.)

  9. business says:

    It works Thanks! It’s easier and there’s more available options using Windows, but just got a Mac and love it.

  10. Ann says:

    DRM is still a major problem in the online music and video industry. I hate DRM, and I’m sure 99% of the people reading this agree with me – DRM sucks. The only benefit is for the record companies, so that their music cannot be shared on file sharing/BitTorrent websites. It brings the user absolutely no benefits, and many drawbacks – including limiting what you can do with your music/video in almost every way possible. Whether it’s putting the file on your mobile phone, or wanting to use it on more than five computers. Well, it looks like 5thirtyone has a stunningly simple solution to your DRM problems.
    I’ve found Melodycan software which seems to handle what I am looking for here – converting DRM protected MWA files to unprotected MP3 files. It looks like what i’m going to go with.

  11. Edward says:

    I’m trying this same approach with movies, to remove the DRM from a show I purchased on iTunes, and it’s not working.

    Anyone know how to do that?

  12. Michael says:

    Regarding Sirius, It is the best 15 bucks I could ever spend a month. Many years ago I purchased their first portable unit (50 hours stored when undocked) and loved it. It finally died and Sirius yelled at Best Buy to give me the (at the time latest Stiletto 100) for free. Best Buy finally gave in and just charged me a little bit for the cost difference, which (for some reason) Sirius reimbursed me for.
    I used to spend 20-30 on iTunes for music and spend hours finding music on bittorrent, now if I hear a song I like, I smack the “love” button and the song is saved. No purchasing involved. It records the music constantly so I have a couple days worth of music recorded directly off the stations if I want to go that way, or I can play through the Library of loved songs. Or I can use the built in Satellite tuner or WiFi.
    It is costly initial investment (sirius offers refurb units for dirt cheap ($100 for my 350 unit), but is funny to watch your friends stare (with envy) as you hit the pause button on live music to answer the phone. (think DVR for music. With no Tivo removing media at random times)

    Oh, and they stream the music online for free when you have an account.

    Bonus: all stiletto units have wifi and double as powerful wifi scanners.

  13. Dave says:

    Following your iMovie steps precisely ( after 1st simply trying to drag from iTunes “Purchased” to the desktop, then iMovie . . which got the same results as the next attempt ), I still get the drop-down window telling me to open iTunes and “authorize this computer” . . which it already is !
    So what’s gets me beyond that wall !

  14. Dave says:

    May 4, 2009 at 6:45 am
    Same thing a problem here. Any luck?

    Nope !
    It’s a darn conundrum !!

  15. Jaybird says:

    Awesome. Thanks a lot! The iMovie trick worked flawlessly and now I am going to save some $! Thank you!

  16. Carrie says:

    This looks like a great guide, thank you!
    I do have a question though… iMovie HD isn’t available for download anymore, is there anyway I can just use regular ‘ol iMovie?

  17. Amy says:

    I am looking for a way to remove music drm on mac, and this guide is really helpful:)

  18. John says:

    Is it just me or has the iMovie HD trick been broken by Lion? I can’t seem to import any DRM music anymore.