How iTunes Movie DRM-Removal Software Keeps Me Honest

I like to watch a lot of movies on a lot of different devices. Some of those devices are made by Apple, like my iPad and Apple TV, while some are made by TiVo, Roku, Panasonic, Sony and others. I need my media portable; not just portable in the mobile sense to take with me when I travel, but portable in the sense that I can't have limits on which of my devices will play any given movie.

This is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) or, put more plainly, copy-protection, becomes a huge nuisance. If I buy a movie from Apple's iTunes Movie Store the file contains DRM that keeps me from playing that movie on anything but Apple devices. That clearly doesn't work if I want to stream the movie I just purchased to my TiVo in the playroom.

Every other online movie purchase source has similar restrictions – the large content creators demand them. Plus, I've been around the block enough times to know that even if my DRM-limited content works on all my current devices, it's a near-certainty that it won't work on at least some of my devices five years from now. That's not good enough. I put a lot of work into building and curating my movie collection; I'm not interested in repeating that work time-and-again just to keep some suits and lawyers happy today.

For these reasons I'm a big fan of using HandbrakeMakeMKV and Don Melton's scripts to convert DVDs and Blu-Rays into DRM-free digital formats. The resulting files are high-quality movies that can be played anywhere today and, with reasonable expectation, in the future, as well.

But if it's Saturday at 7:00 PM and you want to watch a movie that night, buying (and ripping) a DVD or Blu-Ray isn't going to suffice because it won't arrive in time. As such, I've been searching for a plan to stay legal (at least in terms of purchasing the movies) without having to live inside of a DRM'ed bubble.

One option would be to purchase the DVD from Amazon and then use BitTorrent to download a temporary copy of the movie to watch while waiting for the DVD to arrive. This would work and is relatively easy, especially once you add in the auto-torrent searcher Couch Potato. The problem with this is it starts down a slippery slope. It would be even easier to simply skip the purchasing and head straight to the downloading. And that's not cool. But it is easy, and easy is always going to win out.

If only there were an easy way to strip the DRM from Apple's iTunes purchases like there is using Handbrake and MakeMKV for DVDs and Blu-Rays. It turns out there is: NoteBurner. For a one-time purchase price of US$45 NoteBurner strips the DRM from Apple's iTunes movies resulting in portable, DRM-free versions of your purchased movies to use as you wish. Finally, a solution.

Noted video expert Jim Tanous at TekRevue helped me vet this piece, and also did some quality comparisons. Turns out NoteBurner's claims of "lossless" DRM-removal aren't entirely accurate, but are likely good enough for most of us. Jim has published his NoteBurner vs. iTunes quality comparison results.

With Great Power...

Regardless of how you create (or, ahem, acquire) your DRM-free movie files, you need to be responsible with the product. If you publish these on your website, upload them to BitTorrent, or share them with more than a friend or two, you're most likely committing a crime. Not cool.

Technically, even removing the DRM might be a crime, but that's never been tested against folks who have been responsible with the result, and likely never will be – it's akin to creating a backup and likely falls under Fair Use. Can you imagine how it would look if Sony sued some dude for creating – and responsibly protecting – backups of his movie collection? It simply wouldn't make sense for Sony to take action because civil suits are only filed when the plaintiff can collect significant damages. As long as said dude didn't distribute the movie, the damages are virtually nonexistent.

It's also important to mention that NoteBurner will strip the DRM from all iTunes downloads, including movie rentals. Once the DRM is gone from a rental there's no date-restriction left behind, meaning your NoteBurner-processed files would be playable for eternity, sans limits.

It's up to you to be responsible with your choices here, but that's just the point, isn't it? I'd rather live in a world where we have the freedom to do responsible things. As long as it's easy for us to be responsible, most of us will behave that way. The existence of the iTunes Music Store proved that years ago. It's with this in mind that I will happily purchase iTunes Movies and convert them with NoteBurner for safe-keeping in my DRM-free digital movie storage vault. Offshore, of course.