How Do I Remove DRM from WMV files?

Dear Lopy:

I recently purchased a few movies from one of those “legal” video download services that you guys are always talking about. For some reason they won’t play on my video iPod and I can’t burn them onto DVDs. Hell, I can’t even watch these movies on my laptop if I’m not connected to The Internets. A friend suggested that it might have something to do with DRM, whatever that is. So, how do I remove DRM from my WMV files?

Signed,
Stuck With DRM (whatever that is)

Dear Stuck:
[ad#AdSense1] The limitations you’ve run into are typical of the current generation of downloadable video services. For what it’s worth, you’d have the same problem if you downloaded a movie from iTunes and wanted to burn a DVD or play it on a non-Apple portable.

While DRM is inconvenient, it’s been put in place for a reason — to control consumer access to digital content. In the pre-digital world consumers enjoyed a wide variety of rights that were generally considered to be “fair use”. For example, consumers could easily make copies of analog media for personal use, or to transfer media from one format to another format.

Media companies, in their infinite wisdom, have determined that it’s much to dangerous to grant consumers those same rights with digital media. As a result, most digital media products are now protected with DRM. Consumers like yourself are just now coming to terms with these new limitations.

It’s understandable that you would want to remove DRM from your WMV files (or iTunes video files, or any other DRM protected media file). Unfortunately, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it a crime to circumvent DRM technology. In fact, the DMCA is so strict that it’s a crime to even think about circumventing DRM technology.

That doesn’t mean you’re entirely out of luck. I’ll make an effort to answer your question without breaking any federal laws. On the off chance that I go too far there are other Lopers who will take my place should I get shipped off to Gitmo.

There are two basic approaches you might take in any hypothetical attempt to remove DRM from your WMV files:

Approach No. 1: The super risky and extremely illegal approach for removing DRM.

Recently we’ve seen the appearance of several programs that remove the DRM from encoded media files. These programs literally de-DRM your media files and produce un-encoded files with no restrictions. FairUse4WM cleans-up PlaysForSure encoded media files, but only audio, not video – so technically this wouldn’t solve your problem. iTunes customers can use QTFairUse to remove DRM from iTunes music files, but not iTunes videos.

The advantage of this approach is that the quality of the original recording is not compromised. The disadvantage, in your case, is that this approach currently doesn’t remove DRM from encoded video files. Oh, and did I mention it’s also against federal law?

If you’re interested in violating the DMCA (or perhaps you live outside of the United States) you’ll have to use The Google to find these programs. It’s actually against the law to even link to these programs.

Approach No. 2: The slightly less risky and possibly even legal approach to remove DRM.

This method is sort of a throwback to the good old days when kids used to tape songs off of the radio (probably before you were born). As luck would have it, the DMCA makes exceptions for copies made from analog outputs. As a result, you can take advantage of this so-called analog hole to record the playback of your DRM protected media files. It’s sort of like holding a microphone up to your speakers, except there are programs that actually do the recording inside of your computer (eliminating all sorts of possible disasters involving cats, speakers, and microphones).

As you might guess, media companies are lobbying to have the analogue hole closed. In the meantime, there are a couple programs you might want to investigate to help deal with your DRM problems.

Tunebite is somewhat of Swiss army knife for converting digital media files. The program will convert audio and video files from any number of formats including WMA, M4A, M4P, AA, M4B, WMV and M4V. Tunebites works by intercepting the output from your Windows Media or iTunes player. Since the output has been decrypted by a supported media player, Tunebites isn’t technically removing DRM. If you have doubts about Tunbebit’s legality, check out the company’s legal disclaimer. While Tunebite may have found a way to sidestep DMCA restrictions, consumers are still obligated to limit their copying for personal use only.

AnalogWhole is another option for freeing your DRM’d music files. Like Tunebite, AnalogWhole intercepts audio after it’s already been decrypted by a media player. Unlike Tunebite, AnalogWhole can’t convert video files. While Tunebite is a commercial program, AnalogWhole is open source and available at no cost. If you’re primarily interested in freeing your extensive iTunes collection AnalogWhole might be your best option.

Tunebites and AnalogWhole are both available for the Windows platform only. Mac users will either need to find a friend with Windows or refrain from buying DRM’d media in the first plays.

Also, it’s worth noting that that this approach to capturing audio and video content can result in a substantial loss of quality. After you’ve freed your media files for convenience sake, you’ll still want to maintain a backup of the originals.

And finally, Medialoper does not endorse or encourage the use of either of these programs.

Kirk Biglione is a DRM expert and new media consultant. He has written extensively about digital content and the consumer experience, and how DRM shapes the marketplace for digital content.

22 Responses to “How Do I Remove DRM from WMV files?”

  1. Dirtminer says:

    I\’ve seen reports that the mentioned freeware antiDRM tool works on video (see blogs.ign.com/Gerry-IGN/2006/09/08/30385/ ). Not that any USians can legally verify this, unfortunately.

  2. ADz says:

    What the hell is going oN? i havn’t downloaded media it seems for a few years, now it seems you can’t do iot and your not allowed to WTF is going on, let me guess MICRO SOFT HEY ffS

  3. ALFRED says:

    This is perfect template blog. I tried install a blog and it went bad. Do you have any tips on installing?

  4. tomypost says:

    If you want to convert protected music WMA files to plain MP3, you can try NoteBurner form

  5. becket says:

    so what happens when drm licence holding servers go bust, break down, or crash and burn how will we be able to show our grandkids what we listerned to at there age

  6. marcin says:

    Wtf? So is THINKING about cracking DRM against the law? Sorry that sounds a bit nazi O_o

  7. Aboro says:

    I have looked into the ways and means of copying DRM protected video files for personal use and here is what I have found: the ONLY (and I mean ONLY) software currently available to do that is Tunebite. Unfortunately, Tunebite does NOT work effectively in copying most video files unless you happen to have an extremely powerful, dual processor CPU. Most consumers do not have one that powerful — even those who bought what they thought were powerful desktops for purposes of playing high-end games. The output will be choppy and there will be missing frames.
    If you go to the Tunebite blog, you will read a lot of complaints about this product.

    What irks me the most (and perhaps someone with far more computer savvy than I have can comment on this) is that I have been told that in this digital world it is IMPOSSIBLE to create “crack-proof” encrypted files. If that is true, one would think that by this time someone has figured out a way to copy DRM protected video files. Alas, such is not the case.

    It seems that Bill Gates and Microsoft are winning this war!!!!!! Does anyone ever see a time when consumers will be able to copy DRM protected video files for their personal use (which is a lawful activity)???

  8. AKAFright says:

    I hear MS can modify our programs without our knowledge. Something to do with DRM, not sure. Anyone know anything about this.

  9. aboro says:

    MS can and will modify WMP each time you authorize an update of that program. At the time the update occurs, MS will include the latest released version of DRM.

    MS upgrades its DRM to deal with new hacking threats. If you want to avoid MS doing this, make sure you refuse all requests by MS to update WMP. Even this solution is temporary because in time, newly released DRM audio or video files are written so that the file can only be played on the most recent version of WMP. This means you have to update WMP eventually.

  10. Chas says:

    This DRM stuff is killing me!!!

    I do not live in the US anymore so I could care less about the breaking US law and removing DRM for personal use.

    DRM no DRM…. I just want to be able to play my media on any platform that I choose. DRM is like going into your local stereo shop and having to purchase a DVD player for each movie studio.

    So if anyone lives outside the US and knows a good alternative to remove the DRM protection (hardware or software) I am all ears.

    Thanks

  11. Chas says:

    Sorry anything other than tunebite.

  12. Jason Atkins says:

    There is a video at freemymp3.com that will show you how to remove drm. Works well with napster and rhapsody forms of drm.

  13. Uther_Dark says:

    The EASIEST way to break DRM, and I mean the EASIEST, is to get a video Capture Device (such as ADS DVD Xpress (what I use)) and a Video card that supports TV out (most do) Hook your computer up to another one through the Device (via your TV out and Sound out on your card)…I.E.
    Computer A has the video you want and the Video Card w/TV Out, computer B has the capture device, Play the video on Computer A, while Recording it to your favorite format on Computer B…if you do not have two computers you can substitute computer B with a VCR or some such device but you will still need the capture device to put it BACK on your PC…I use this method to rip DVD’s that have copy protection I can’t get around (such as Resident Evil: Apocolypse) I hope I have helped, and I remind you that this is for your OWN PERSONAL USE…

  14. Uther_Dark says:

    Also a similar method can be used for DRM encoded music, but if you have a lot…it could take a while.

  15. joel says:

    I keep getting video test failed in tunebite..what do I do now?

  16. Kirk says:

    Joel, my first thought would be to contact someone at Tunebite about your issue.

  17. abrogard says:

    I’ve got a problem with playing the file in the first place. Windows went looking for something or other when it first tried to play the file… did something to my computer so’s it could play DRM WMV files and then off we went with windows media player.

    Only it plays it with the video all cocked up – it’s in splashy blocks of garish color. I can’t see what the picture is supposed to be.

    Anyone got any clues on that?

  18. Small-Axe says:

    Too true Uther_Dark : similiarly to remove drm on audio, by far the easiest way has got to be using a sound recorder to record it as it plays off your sound card- there a re zillions of sound recorders out there – get crackin hehe

  19. fifiward says:

    Small-Axe, I had same problem, but someone recommended NoteBurner to me. This program can burn iTunes music on virtual disc, actually the local disk, through iTunes, and it is quite easy to use. Anyhow. DRM is really inconvenient.

  20. HELL_FIRE301 says:

    In a response to the comment by {13. Uther_Dark wrote on April 8th, 2007 at 8:29 am} you could replace 2nd computer with a DVD recorder or VCR

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