iTunes DRM Glitch for Apple

By Richard Menta 6/5/07

Apple deserves credit for their online support, which for a particular issue I encountered was quick and responsive. Recently, I purchased a song on iTunes that played fine on my computer, but when I attempted to play the same track on any one of my iPods I couldn't. My portables would only briefly flash the track's information on the display before skipping to the next song.

The track in question was Kathleen by Josh Ritter, a song that made my April 16th iPod Playlist article. The problem appeared to be an authorization issue where somehow I had to clear the permissions for this song to play on my iPod. I never had to do this before, but I assumed it was some step I missed and could easily remedy. So, I attempted to figure it out on my own, but unfortunately I couldn't.

SanDisk View is available on Amazon

I eventually admitted defeat and called the Apple support line to have them walk me through it, but the polite and professional agent on the phone was unable to remedy the situation either. He directed me to send an email direct to the iTunes support team who had greater intimacy with the product. He said they would probably recognize what the root of the problem was and supply a proper solution.

I did just that and within 24 hours I received this response from an agent named Ruben, dated May 24th:

Dear Richard,

I understand that your song Kathleen from Josh Ritter would not play on your
iPod Nano. I'm sorry to learn that this item did not meet the standard of
quality you have come to expect from the iTunes Store. I have submitted this
item for investigation. Apple takes the quality of the items offered on the
iTunes Store seriously and will investigate the issue with this item, but I
can't say when or if the issue will be resolved. Please try again in a few

I have also issued a replacement song credit to your account

This note got me thinking. Technical glitches are common with any technology and so it stands to reason that DRM itself adds another layer of code that can go wrong. That's when it dawned on me that there is yet another reason for Apple to waive the flag in support of non-DRM content. While European regulators contemplate laws to force iTune's to share its DRM because it won't allow them to play on competing portables, here is an example where the eccentricities of DRM can occasionally undermine the ability of these tracks to play seamlessly on Apple's own portables.

Apple's brand rides on this seamless interaction between devices, but the volitile demands of content holders coupled with an evolving iTunes can set the stage for the unintentional disconnect. There must be quite a few tracks that are similarly afflicted. I say that because I doubt that the editor of MP3 Newswire just happened to find the one track out of a million that had a problem. Take the DRM away and the problem goes away, but iTunes is not quite there yet.

iTunes just launched its DRM-free catalog last week, but presently it only sports the music of one label - EMI. If this strategy is successful - and I think price is the biggest stumbling block to its success - the other major labels should follow, but that will take time. The independent labels will probably jump on the no-DRM wagon at iTunes sooner and Josh Ritter is an independent artist, but that will take time also. Unless consumers turn to the P2P apps they will just wait until Apple corrects the issue before they can play Ritter's music on their iPods.

And that's disappointing, even though Apple showed me why their service is among the best in the industry with a quick, professional response and a full refund. Hopefully a fix is forthcoming.

Other MP3 stories:
iPod Killers for Summer 2007
- 38 new portable players
iPod Killer Graveyard: Failures Equal NIB Bargains


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