iTunes Match Can Replace DRM Protected Audio Files with Unprotected Versions [Ask MacRx]

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The new iTunes Match service is a handy way to share music among all your computers and iDevices. One reader is wondering if this feature can also be used to replace older 128kbps DRM encoded tracks with their higher bitrate, unencumbered iTunes Plus versions:

Just wondering something about iTunes Match. I’ve got a bunch of songs on iTunes that I purchased early in the game, and they are in .m4p format, so they have the DRM locks and can’t easily be converted to .mp3 format. They are only at 128kbps, which is the only thing iTunes offered back in the day. If I sign up for iTunes Match, will these songs be updated to their new DRM-free 256kbps versions, or do I have to pay for the iTunes Plus service first?

And no, downloading them again from iTunes in the Cloud didn’t upgrade them for me – it only re-downloaded the DRM 128kbps version.

Jason

Hi Jason,

I’m happy to say the answer to your question is YES – iTunes Match can be used to replace DRM encoded tracks with their iTunes Plus DRM free versions. I’m very pleased to learn this myself, as I had about 450 tracks in my iTunes library still in digital shackles and was unwilling to pay $0.30/song to upgrade individually.

You need to remove and re-download the files to accomplish this. Enable iTunes Match on your system (requires iTunes 10.5.1) and let it go through the initial matching and uploading routine. Once the process is complete, run a backup of your iTunes library with Time Machine (or equivalent) to be safe, then from the View menu chose View Options… and enable the setting for “Kind”. This allows you to sort by kind, and all DRM tracks will show up as Protected AAC audio files. Select the whole batch and hit Delete. Do not check the “Remove from iCloud option” when asked. In the subsequent window tell iTunes to move all the deleted tracks to the Trash.

You will now have the batch of protected files in your music list but not in your iTunes library. An iCloud icon with a down arrow will appear next to each track, allowing you to download the file in 256kbps AAC format without DRM. You can download one track at a time or select the entire batch, right-click and choose “Download” from the contextual menu. I did this for my entire block of 456 tracks and iTunes happily replaced them with unprotected, higher bitrate versions. The new tracks show up as Matched AAC audio files in the Kind column, and the files themselves have an .m4a extension rather than .m4p.

There do appear to be a few tracks and artists that this doesn’t work for – for example, my Pete Townshend “Gold” album refuses to drop its DRM encoding. This is probably due to a contractual situation with the artist or label. I still have 20 tracks in my library which I can’t seem to replace with Matched versions, but that’s a lot better than 450. Also, you need to own the tracks to begin with – iTunes Match will not allow you to take DRM files from other people’s libraries and add the non-protected versions to your own system.

This upgrade capability makes the $24.99 cost of iTunes Match worth the price to me. Having to pay an additional fee to remove DRM from my existing tracks never seemed fair, it felt like a penalty for being an early adopter. Now I can get all the benefits of iCloud distribution and lose these digital shackles. Glad to see Apple making the right decision on this one.

That is fantastic news! I appreciate all your digging into this, as well as the immensely detailed instructions for me to replace all that DRM-protected stuff with fresh, new, unprotected tracks! Now, I just have to wait until Canada gets iTunes Match, and then I’ll be all set!

Take care!
Jason

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Readers, have any additional suggestions on this topic, or corrections/clarifications on the advice above? If so, please leave your thoughts in the comments.