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The Devil's Advocate
by John Kheit

New Software Can Strip Apple's DRM From iTunes Downloads
April 5th, 2004

As noted by Insanely Great Mac, a new application called PlayFair seems to crack Apple's FairPlay Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme in a rather interesting way. PlayFair requires that you have purchased the Apple DRM track. It will not remove the DRM if you do not have a FairPlay decryption key on your system; one that you would have received with the legitimate purchase of your iTMS music.

It's not clear if the PlayFair author purposefully put in the requirement of having a FairPlay key for moral reasons or for technical reasons. It's also not clear if keys are movable, i.e., would simply copying a key from one computer onto another allow PlayFair to decrypt iTMS FairPlay tracks?

In addition, as of right now, the software is a command-line-only application that has to be compiled by the user.

It's of note that most of the commonly used formats have been cracked. Jon Johansen, the author of DeCSS created a decryption tool enabling video extraction from DVDs. Also, QTFairUse allows users on Windows systems to bypass FairPlay's encryption by ripping a decrypted AAC stream from within QuickTime (see TMO's coverage for more information). The difference is that PlayFair actually strips the DRM away.

Also of interest, it's not clear who the author of PlayFair is. From the download:

The list of authors for this program is not available. In fact, there is really only one author for this program. However, because that person is a US Citizen, and because of an abomination called the DMCA, that person is not willing to take "credit" for this work.

The author dedicated his work to anyone that wants to claim it as it is released under the GNU Public License (GPL). The author also revealed feelings regarding the US's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA):

My hope would be that someone in a different country with less oppressive laws will take ownership of this package.

The README file that comes with PlayFair goes on to add:

INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE...(It also wants to be anthropomorphized.)

Regardless of your DRM politics, the result is that PlayFair is reported to strip away DRM from music purchased at the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) as long as the song is stored on a Windows PC or iPod. PlayFair doesn't seem to work if you just have a Mac and no iPod. Of course there is always Virtual PC and iTunes for Windows.

It's not clear if the process of stripping the DRM affects the bit rate quality, but the program is reported to be extremely quick -- taking only a few seconds to strip the DRM -- so it's unlikely that any re-encoding is taking place. However, some users are reporting that iTunes reports a lower bit rate for tracks that were processed by PlayFair.

It will be interesting to see if PlayFair affects iTMS sales. Will those that do not like DRM get off the fence and start purchasing tracks? Will wide scale pilfering of the iTMS's database ensue? Time will tell.

Although PlayFair is a command-line only tool, it was released with full source code. As such, it's only a question of when, not if, a follow-on GUI wrapper will be released. If I had to make a bet on the over-under, I think one is likely to manifest itself inside of a week.

is an attorney. Please don't hold that against him. This work does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of The Mac Observer, any third parties, or even John for that matter. No assertions of fact are being made, but rather the reader is simply asked to consider the possibilities.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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