Why Microsoft’s WMA File Format and Their DRM Sucks

Why I Hate DRM

Why I Hate DRM, Plate 2

Back when I first started ripping my CDs on my computer and before I really knew what I was doing I ripped a bunch of mine in WMA format. This is the default format that Windows Media Player rips your CDs in.

Shortly after beginning to rip all of my CDs I made the wise decision to change the default rips from Windows Media Player from Microsoft’s crappy WMA format to high bit rate mp3.

Unfortunately I am now a victim of Microsoft’s DRM. See the screenshots above for what I am talking about. I just got these two screenshots when trying to play a legitimate WMA file that I ripped from a CD that I owned. Maybe it’s because I upgraded my PC or maybe it’s because of something else, but the bottom line is I can no longer play this music file in WMA format.

While at first I thought that playing the file might be as easy as downloading a license from the page that Windows Media Player sent me to when refusing to play the file, unfortunately I got an error message (also documented above) that Windows somehow couldn’t get me the license because of some other problem associated with a Netscape browser. I’m using the Firefox browser which as one of the most common browsers in the world, you’d think you wouldn’t have to go through all this trouble.

DRM is bad. DRM cripples your rights as a consumer to listen to the music that you legitimately paid for. Fortunately I learned how crappy the WMA file format was early on and only a few hundred of my CDs were ripped in WMA format.

This is why I’ve never purchased a single song online and instead choose to rip my music from CDs that I purchase. No matter how well intentioned and easy music providers claim their DRM is, at some point you very likely will have trouble trying to play music that you legitimately purchased. Even if you can go online and research it and figure out a way to get the license or to convert your WMA files to mp3, it’s still a hassle that the consumer should not have to endure.

Do yourself a favor and make sure that you do not rip your CDs using Microsoft’s WMA file format, otherwise you may end up, like me, unable to play your own music.

Update: I just found that by cutting and pasting the url from the Firefox browser to the IE explorer browser that I was able to get the license that I needed and was able to play my song. Still, I don’t think that a consumer should have to jump through these hoops to play their legitimately purchased music.

10 Replies to “Why Microsoft’s WMA File Format and Their DRM Sucks”

  1. Thomas,

    There is an option in WMP that allows you to rip using WMA and not include the DRM. I ripped my entire library using WMA Lossless without protection and I do not need a license for any of them to play and transfer to other PCs.

    However I have since converted all of my music to MP3 so I can play them on my Touch!


  2. Thomas – it’s not really anything to do with WMA as such. I agree with your stance on DRM but this is a simple Windows Media Player option setting.

    Tools>Options>Rip Music>Uncheck “copy protect music”. From the Windows Media Plaler help file:

    “If you intend to use your ripped music on multiple computers, do not copy protect the files. If you want to limit the distribution of any songs that you rip, turn on copy protection before ripping”

    I must admit, I though that this was turned off by default and that you had to turn it on. I don’t recall ever tuning it off on my WMP installation yet it is disabled on my PC.. I play the same WMA files on 2 PCs in my house so maybe I did turn it off but I certainly don’t remember doing so.

    So, you can rip using Windows Media Player in MP3 or WMA with no DRM.

    None the less I agree that DRM serves no valuable purpose.

  3. Like others just adding clarification that the actual WMA encoding is considered by many to be a superiour format when comparing bitrate vs. sound quality. The heart of the issue is that fact that a) WMA allows DRM and that b) the copy protection checkbox is checked by default in Windows Media Player. You’d be doing right by your readers to clarify those issues in the original blog post.

    Like phil I just checked my WMP which I *never* use and the copy protection checkbox also was not checked by default. Perhaps in the early WMP you used it was on by default but that doens’t seem to be the case anymore.

    All that said I rip everything to 320kbps VBR MP3 so I have maximum portability between my PC, Zune, XBox 360 and Sonos.

    Blame WMP and DRM, not the format.

  4. You keep complaining about this, but you are the one who did not uncheck “copy protect music”. Seems pretty reasonable to allow customers to opt out and have the settings that protect them legally enabled by default

  5. “Seems pretty reasonable to allow customers to opt out and have the settings that protect them legally enabled by default”

    Except it’s not Microsoft’s job to protect its customers legally. They may be called upon to indemnify their customers against certain legal actions, but that doesn’t extend to things their end users may do to violate copyright.

    Since the RIAA holds that “making available” is a copyvio, it wouldn’t matter if the people downloading your DRM’ed file could play it or not. In their eyes the damage has been done by sharing the file in the first place. The DRM provides no “legal” protection at all. And if you’re not sharing your files, you don’t need the DRM gunking up the works. So it’s pointless.

    It’s an attempt to force people to remain chained to Windows Media Player and by extension Windows itself. It’s a bit like Apple making the default encoder in iTunes its own AAC (though to Apple’s credit it doesn’t shove FairPlay down your throat on tracks you encode yourself).

  6. The entire Amazon MP3 store is DRM-free; you can buy your music downloads there legally and without any of the compatibility or DRM headaches.

  7. The entire Amazon MP3 store is DRM-free; you can buy your music downloads there legally and without any of the compatibility or DRM headaches.

    These days I discover a lot of new music on blogs. Tools like Hype Machine make this discovery process a lot easier.

    If I find a band that I like I will then purchase their CDs and rip them into high bit rate crystal clear mp3s.

    This may be slightly more work for me but I actually enjoy going to the CD store and going through the bins and finding cool new music there as well.

    Many of the times you can also find used CDs that are cheaper than buying the tracks online.

    For me this works best.

  8. When you legally download music from services such as iTunes and Musicmatch Jukebox, the files are protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM). This prevents you from playing the music on unsupported players. I use MelodyCan software (http://www.melodycan.com/index.php) to remove protection. But remember distributing these files is illegal.

  9. Likes other have said, there’s an option to disable that stupid DRM ripping.

    On WMP 11, go to down arrow under “Rip” tab > More Options > Uncheck “Copy Protect Music” > Ok.

    That’s it. It helps to explore your options sometimes.

    I think it has more to do with the RIAA than Microsoft. You can blame them as well. WMA isn’t that bad guy though.

  10. This is why I avoid WMP. If you think it’s bad to have to ask for permission to listen to your own CDs, imagine that you wanted to switch operating systems down the road… You would have to re-rip all of your music just to unshackle it from Microsoft. I recommend Ogg Vorbis (or MP3), because they are not under the control of a mega-corporation who has an incentive to force people to keep using their software to access their own content.

    Somebody should have imported a recording that they made themselves into WPM and then sued Microsoft for taking it hostage without permission. If you think about it,

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