September 9, 2007 | By Derek Slater

iTunes Ringtones: Making You Pay Again For Music You Already Own

Tired of paying several dollars to buy ringtone versions of music you already own? When it comes to songs ripped from your CD collection or downloaded MP3s, widely-available software tools allow you to roll your own ringtones instead and put them on a variety of phones.

But what the world of unencrypted music giveth, DRM-locked media taketh away. DRM allows media vendors to restrict your fair use rights so that they can be sold back to you piecemeal as "features."

The latest example: Apple's announcement that you can now create ringtones of DRM-locked iTunes-purchased music. Apple will only let you convert those tracks to ringtones if you pay another dollar, and, just as you can only move iTunes DRM restricted tracks to the iPod and not other portable players, these ringtones only work on the iPhone. If you'd rather create your own ringtone using a tool like iToner, too bad -- the DRM won't let you, and circumventing the lock could violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Imagine if this is how the CD world had worked. Your investment in CDs has paid all kinds of dividends over time because third parties could freely enable novel personal uses, like ripping MP3s and moving them to a portable player of your choice. Innovators didn't need to beg copyright holders' or record stores' permission first in order to help you get more from your music collection.

DRM can take away that freedom and the innovation it enables, as rights holders and vendors can block new tools outright and make you pay again and again to use music you've already purchased. Restricting compatible players and the creation of ringtones is just the tip of the iceberg.

(As we pointed out earlier, Apple is also apparently trying to frustrate turning unencrypted songs into iPhone ringtones using iToner. Will Apple try to use the DMCA to squash this legitimate use as well? Time will tell.)


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