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?
Stuck With DRM (whatever that is)
[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.