Remove DRM protection from iTunes tracks with iMovie HD

  • December 10th, 2007

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].

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