Puretracks Launches DRM-Free Music

Puretracks, a major Canadian online music seller, has just launched DRM-free music for some of its music titles.  While the major label music remains locked behind Windows-based DRM, Puretracks is offering 50,000 titles in clean MP3 format.  Participating labels include some of Canada's leading indie labels such as Nettwerk and Arts & Crafts, along with the Online Independent Distribution Alliance.  While not the first – eMusic, Zunior also offer clean MP3s – the Puretracks move is noteworthy given that it was the major's first big digital music foray into Canada.  To see the service now break with DRM to the extent it can, demonstrates yet again that it is a matter of when, not if, for the labels to drop DRM.

The move also raises two questions.  First – why is Puretracks still blocking Mac users?  I tried this morning to access the site and was completely blocked using Firefox and partially blocked with Safari.  Presumably offering clean MP3 should allow the service to sell to anyone.  Second, the move to clean MP3s brings to mind my colleague Jeremy deBeer's posting last November in which he noted that the online music tariff before the Copyright Board appears to include a mandatory DRM provision.  Such a provision is obviously incompatible with the Puretracks DRM-free service.

Update: CBC reports on the ongoing discussion over Puretracks, Macs, and DRM.


  1. Re: No Macs

    Apparently the invitation to “Contact Us” doesn’t apply to mac users either. How’s that for sticking your fingers in your ears? 🙂

  2. Guy
    They also block Linux users. is a MUCH better music store that a) does not block non-Windows platforms, b) does not use DRM on the music they sell and c) supports Canadian musicians. I\’ve bought a few hundred dollars worth of music from them and they are great.

  3. Alexandre Racine says:
    I am using Firefox on Ubuntu (Linux) and everything works fine.

    On the other hand, this is part of the FAQ :

    Q: Does this mean I can buy songs from Puretracks on a Mac?
    A: Not yet. But we are definitely working on it.

  4. Geoff Wozniak says:

    I had every intention of trying them out. Since they don’t like Mac OS, I guess that won’t be happening any time soon.

  5. I used to work for Puretracks. Despite the Bell Canada investment it’s still a smallish group of people, so give them some slack while they are trying to make things work. It’s a complicated business, and the deck is stacked against them.

  6. I can only imagine the possible reason for “blocking” Mac systems stems from the site using the ASPX language, which seems to only work right in Internet Explorer.

  7. Blame Cana… err, that’s us… Blame T
    This might be of interest.

    The interesting thing that he mentioned was that when Puretracks was launching, a condition that the music labels required was that the site would not work for Macs.

    And before another plant jumps in to defend Puretracks (as one did here, and on that link), there’s a difference between a Mac and an iPod.

  8. A proper link…
    Okay, since I can’t link…

    [ link ]

  9. Agh! This drives me nuts. Doesn’t Puretracks provide MP3’s? Their excuse for explicitly rejecting Mac users appears to be that they’re not allowed to use the Apple DRM. They somewhat imply that it’ll be of no use to Mac users, which is a dodgy explanation if they have MP3s.

    But it is possible to access the site with a chameleon browser. In the meantime, my dreams about Puretracks being the shining white knight of music downloads has turned out to be false. 🙁

    I’ve added a note to the Wikipedia puretracks article. Jerks.

  10. – “a condition that the music labels required was that the site would not work for Macs”

    This statement is completely false. I used to work there when Puretracks launched, and the reason Macs weren’t supported is because DRMed WMAs won’t play on a Mac, and the downloader used a plugin only available on explorer (I think it was a Direct”something”, but IANA Webprogrammer, so I may have the details wrong).

    Also, somewhat defensively, I don’t think I count as a “Plant” if I’m saying upfront that I used to work there.

    Please don’t let me stop you from spreading misinformation though (Flame!).

  11. PureTracks are DRM’d WMA’s
    “Puretracks Launches DRM-Free Music”

    This is patently false. The music files on Puretracks are Windows Media Player DRM’d WMA’s! I’ve seen several blurbs now claimin that these music files are MP3’s THEY ARE NOT!

    Clearly, this company is lying to get a foot in the door and using a name like Puretracks to sell WMA’s?? It’s like the Bush Administration calling clear-cutting forests the “Healthy Forests Initiative!”

    Avoid Puretracks, they’re not pure, they’re badly tainted.


  12. Dread Pirate Robert says:

    I’m with Joel – they say that the files won’t work on the Mac OX? Mp3s work, DRM’d wma files don’t.

  13. It looks like some PR Flack has jumped the gun and released this news before the techies and web authors were ready for it. Go back in a week or two to check whether the site has caught up with the new reality.

    Having said that, this little gem from the help page;

    3. Back Up Your Licenses

    All legal (i.e. the artist gets paid) music downloads are copy protected (Digitally Rights Managed (“DRM”))

    has always been wrong and is FUD of the highest order.

  14. JoeL: Did you actually go to the Puretracks site, by the way? Because I did and they do offer MP3 tracks. Sure it’s not the entire collection, but they don’t try to inform you otherwise; when you go to the MP3 section of the page it tells you that only part of the catalogue is available in MP3.

    But I agree that it seems like someone jumped the gun a bit. The error messages lead me to believe that someone didn’t manage to fully update the site before the release. Though Puretracks is in ASPX. Does anything for Mac really run it properly anyway? I know at home on my Windows machine, I can’t access it with Firefox.

  15. John in Calgary says:

    Joel is incorrect. Is it possible he is in the US? U.S. IP addresses are being shown a different site without MP3 availability (see all the comments on the Slashdot article). American addresses cannot purchase from Canadian online music stores just as CAnnadian addresses cannot purchase from American online music stores.

    For an experiment, I tried downloading an MP3 (Sarah McLachlan – Afterglow live – Building a Mystery). It said I was buying an MP3 however the file I actually received was .wma. But it did NOT have any DRM. So, at least in my experience, MP3 – no. DRM-free – yes.

  16. Files are \”mp3 inside\”
    I bought \”Broken Social Scene\” on MP3.

    There appear to be 3 download methods based on (1) ActiveX, (2) Windows executeable, and (3) links.

    The links don\’t work, because the site can\’t find the \”DRM Header\”. Oops. That will likely be fixed in time.

    Both ActiveX and the downloader have problems with certain firewalls or proxies. I run Firefox, and so could not use ActiveX. But the downloader seemed to work, and downloaded all the tracks.

    The track filenames were \”.wma\”. However, checking inside the files shows MPEG data frames. Simply renaming the files to \”.mp3\” then allowed all my various playback and utilities to work just fine.

    A few hurdles, but yes, these are MP3 files.

  17. I was going to email Puretracks but many of the addresses on theit Contact Us page bounce back as undeliverable. So hopefully someone from Puretracks reads this. Only SOME of the non-DRM catalog is in MP3, apparently…

    Dear Puretracks,

    I’m happy to see that Puretracks is offering some of its catalog in non-DRM MP3 format.

    I began an online campaign that was eventually featured in the National Post regarding DRM on CDs by EMI and Sony BMG. Thankfully EMI has stopped issuing CDs with DRM. Sony BMG stopped using DRM on their CDs only after they used DRM plus illegally installed rootkits. Both EMI and Sony BMG are horrible companies but at least are seeing the light on these issues.

    Puretracks is on the right track (pun intended). However – $1.19 for a DRM WMA file or 99¢ for a non-DRM MP3 is STILL too high a price to pay for a lossy music file. I’d love to support Puretracks but even with some of the new non-DRM files, the costs are unrealistic. I’d *NEVER* buy an MP3 at 99¢ and I’d *DIE* before buying a DRM WMA file for $1.19.

    The 16-track Barenaked Ladies album price of $7.99 for non-DRM MP3 is reasonable *IF* it comes with printable album artwork.

    If Puretracks changes to a fully DRM-free catalog *AND* offers MP3s at a more reasonable (29-39¢ per MP3) price, then I’d be prepared to support you 100%.

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