Last week Apple launched iTunes Plus, which allows users to purchase DRM-free tracks, meaning songs can be copied to your heart's content, uploaded onto multiple iPods, made to dance a jig, whatever. Additionally, iTunes Plus downloads come encoded at a bit rate of 256 kbps as opposed to the standard 128 kbps, resulting in improved sound quality. Pretty good, right?
Not so much. The problem isn't that iTunes Plus is more expensive ($1.29 per track as opposed to the standard 99 cents), but any track you purchase in the new format is instantly watermarked with your username and e-mail address. Over on the Wired Web site, intellectual property attorney Fred von Lohmann explained the ramifications: "There's absolutely no reason [personal information] had to be embedded, unencrypted and in the clear," he said. "Some of the privacy problems, in light of this, is that anyone who steals an iPod that includes purchased iTunes music will now have the name and e-mail address of its rightful owner."
Maybe the possibility of your iPod being stolen, the thief putting your music on a file-sharing site and then finding you've been sued by the RIAA for illegal file-sharing because your name was attached to a digital file doesn't bother you. Fair enough. But try to handle this bit of buzz kill: The sound quality upgrade offered by iTunes Plus is barely noticeable. Don't just take the experts' word for it, though, take mine too. I conducted my own listening test -- comparing the 128kbps and 256kbps versions of Jethro Tull's "Witch's Promise." Playing these songs more than 20 times back-to-back revealed a difference so minimal it might have been imagined.
Is access to DRM-free files and (maybe, possibly) better sound quality worth the privacy issue and added cost? I'm leaning toward no. But if you've had a chance to fiddle around with iTunes Plus, drop Audiofile a line and let us know what you think.
-- David Marchese