UK music lovers are getting frustrated with restrictions placed on digital music tracks once they buy them from online stores, says PC Pro magazine.
PC Pro found that many people are frustrated with digital restrictions
The magazine reported that people are also being turned off net music stores because of pricing and disappointing sound quality compared with CDs.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said legal music downloads rose by 900% in 2004.
Last week, the UK's official singles chart included sales of legal tracks.
Yet legal downloads are still fledglings in the music industry, accounting for 2% of the market, according to PC Pro's Nick Ross.
"What people don't understand is that when they buy an iPod or other digital music player, they're being tied into a system," said Mr Ross, deputy labs editor at PC Pro.
"Many of our readers have already been caught out, buying tracks but being unable to play them on their player."
The technology magazine had so many e-mail comments from dissatisfied people it decided to test and compare the main services.
Your views on net music stores
One confused reader said he had spent £40 in an online store. Although his MP3 player played Windows Media Audio (WMA) files that he created, it would not play the copyright-protected WMA files he had purchased.
Another revealed to the magazine how he had to pay twice to download a song because of an error with the online store.
When he tried to swap the song onto another computer, he found he was restricted from doing so.
PC Pro says people are growing increasingly dissatisfied with restrictions on tracks they have paid for, especially if the price they pay is similar to that which is paid for a physical CD.
"That is the trouble when you are presented with a product that lacks the physical nature. It won't feel it has the same sort of value," Paul Brindley, head of digital music analysts, Music Ally, told the BBC News website.
"If there are problems on top of that with what you can do with it, it is inevitable that consumers will start thinking this is much less of a valuable product.
Apple's online music store, the most successful of the online services, is currently under investigation by the European Commission for charging UK iTunes customers more than users in France or Germany.
Mr Brindley said there was a problem with pricing models online currently.
"There is no question that probably the majority of people are finding the prices still quite expensive," said Mr Brindley.
"The labels are trying to maintain prices comparable to the physical world. Our research indicates that those consumers interested in music and technology think 50p is the right price.
"If anything, music labels appear to be upping prices rather than lowering them. But there is nowhere to go but down if they want to grow this market."
But issues around digital rights management system (DRM) restrictions, he said, were still the most pressing currently facing the digital music industry.
"What we are finding is that there is a fair amount of commitment to ownership - owning it outright seems to be quite prevalent amongst all age groups," he added.
But it was still early days for the business and there was a lot more consumer education required too.
DRM is designed to control and prevent the illegal copying and distribution of digital files.
The number of machines music files can be downloaded onto can differ between services.
The stores also vary in how many portable music players can play the purchased track.
Many people still want to properly "own" music they pay for
Apple's online music store, the largest web service, uses a different format for songs from the other download services.
Some use the MP3 format or Microsoft's WMA format, while Real has its own AAC format. Apple iTunes uses AAC with its own FairPlay DRM.
It means people who have bought tracks can play them on up to five computers, although the latest version of iTunes, 4.7.1, introduced a limit to the number of people who could access iTunes shared music each day.
The WMA format also has a DRM system.
In January, a Californian man filed a lawsuit against Apple stating it was unfair he could only use an iPod to play songs bought from iTunes.
Apple has an 87% share of the market for portable digital music players, market research firm NPD Group has reported.
Apple said it had no comment on the findings of PC Pro.
Lure to legitimacy
The music industry worldwide has been aggressively pursuing those who use file-sharing networks to share copyrighted music.
Online music stores, like Wippit, Napster, and iTunes, have tried to attract file-sharers to their legal sites instead.
More than 900 file-sharers were threatened with legal action last week as part of the music industry's fresh move in its anti-piracy war.
That brings the global number of people accused of illegally swapping files to 11,552.
The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) said it was taking action against 33 UK net users accused of illegally sharing music.
Research for the BPI by market research company TNS found that illegal downloaders had cost the music industry £654m in lost sales.
Half of those questioned said that they would keep downloading illegally. Thirty-four percent said they were unsure, and 15% said they would switch to legal sites.
Have you had problems with online music stores? Can you do what you want with the music you have bought? Do you find the stores easy to use and good value for money? You sent us your views.
I think it's fine as it is. My iPod and iTunes do exactly what they said they would and anyone who feels "caught out" should probably pay more attention to what it is that they're buying.
frazer, london, uk
I don't understand why people download albums from the internet. As far as I can see the average cost for an album is £7.99. A reputable site based in Jersey is selling the same album on CD for £8.99. For that you get the CD, box, covers etc., It doesn't make sense to me?
Gray Street, Littlehampton UK
I refuse to buy from online music stores until downloads using lossless compression (e.g. FLAC) are made available from all stores for all tracks. As faster broadband becomes more widely available there is no reason not to do this and once lossless downloads are available the quality will be the same as CDs. Restrictive DRM needs to be addressed whereby a standard system can be implemented amongst different sites.
Paul Solecki, Chesterfield, UK
I also do not like the possibility that,in the future, we shall see more and more music becoming "player specific" - music is there to be enjoyed; not to drive sales of the latest gadget.
Adam C, Lancaster, Britain
eMusic is great, downloading & DRM isn't. However, thanks to Apple's iTunes and Gracenotes CDDB I have ripped all my cd's to my PC and I have no restrictions with my emusic (why should I, I paid full CD prices). So I will continue to buy CD's & rip, but with DRM I will not download.
For non-technical users, the restrictions are a problem the music industry should address. Everything you can do with a real CD (not a copy protected CD - as they break the CD standard) should be possible with a download.
For the more techy people, there is software around to remove DRM or simply play the song and re-record it to a consumer friendly format such as the DRM free MP3 or Ogg Vorbis.
Geoff, Milton Keynes,UK
I bought a few songs to load onto my Creative Zen. I paid for them saved them to my PC to transfer to my player and then found it wouldn't let me. I contacted the store (Napster) they were not exactly helpful. A total waste of money. These stores need to get this sorted out and explain the usage better rather than in 'legal speak', otherwise people will start going back to illegally downloading again.
David Quinton, Wigan, England
The online stores are excellent for finding rare tracks etc, but the lack of compatibility with mp3 players is the most frustrating aspect - you can get around this by burning tracks to a cd then ripping them back onto your computer as a standard track but this can get rather tedious. the customer has paid for the track and should be free to do what he/she wishes with it
Paul Hargreaves, Cardiff, Wales
The stupid thing about DRM is that it doesn't work - it's just annoying, and anyone with a CD rewriter can circumvent it. Treating your customers as if they were criminal simply encourages criminal behaviour. I don't share any of the files I buy from the iTunes and Coke music stores with anyone, but as a matter of principle I remove the copy protection straight away, so I can use the songs on whatever computer or music player I want.
Grant, Crawley, UK
I use Apple iTunes and while i havent had any problems playing the files, i find the selection sometimes limited. I find it frustrating that the US verion has so much more to choose from and that I am unable to purchase it
Rebecca, Milton Keynes, Bucks
I have never had problems with buying tunes from iTunes music store. in fact it has encouraged me to listen to music again.
dave o brien, Ireland
I would never buy online music due to the quality of the files that are available and will always choose to buy a CD and rip it myself. Record companies - get your act together and use a decent codec and maximum bit rate as it's not like bandwidth is an issue these days. Look at Metallica's live music store - you can choose to download an MP3 or lossless FLAC format, which of course means no loss of sound quality compared to the original source.
I use the Apple iTMS a lot and recently had a corruption problem with some tracks I had downloaded. I contacted Apple and they refunded me almost immediately and the fixed tracks were soon available for download again.
Rob, Thatcham, UK
The fact that DRM exists is the only reason I still use p2p applications to download music illegally, if I buy a track off the iTunes store, I want to be able to play it on my sony MP3 player, thats all there is to it. Apple, or anyone else, should not be given this chance to develope a monopoly over the digital music industry in this way.
Christian Smallwood, Edinburgh
DRM is the final insult - is the music industry so naive that it thinks this will prevent its tracks getting leaked onto the net? It only serves to irritate paying customers.
Latté, Leics. UK
Using iTunes, I don't have any problems at all. If the (extremely generous) number of computers I can use my purchased music on isn't enough, I can burn to CD, and then it's entirely unrestricted. As for pricing, I don't have a problem with it - it's still much cheaper than shelling out a tenner or more to buy an album where I only want one or two tracks. The standard album price of £7.99 is OK too - when U2's Vertigo was released, the actual CD's RRP was about £15.
martin, East Lothian, Scotland
I use the "Bleep" music store from Warp Records; their selection is smaller than the mainstream music stores, but their music is available in higher-quality formats -- and has no DRM. Warp seem to take the view, shared by many musicians and music fans alike, that people making unauthorised copies will always find a way around DRM: only the honest users are inconvenienced by it. Not only that, but 50% of the profit on each track goes to the musician -- instead of the handful of pennies at most from iTunes Music Store and Napster 2.0 and their competitors. More stores should take this approach, treating their customers _and_ artists fairly, instead of allowing all the money to be siphoned off by distributors and marketing and executive lunches.
CL, London, UK
I don't have trouble downloading iTunes onto CD. In fact there is a CD burner included. What I have trouble with is that you can't swap music using Sony's ATRAC system if it wasn't recorded on your PC in the first place. For example, if I record something onto my Minidisc (MD) recorder from a different source, Sony's ATRAC system stops me from downloading that recording through the USB connection so I can burn it to CD. The only music you can download is that which has been recorded from the PC to the Minidisk initally, and then it can be 'Checked In' back onto the PC. Why? It is stupid and frustrating way to control recorded medium, and my orignal source may be my spoken words, or me practicing on my guitar. It doesn't matter: I still can't 'Check In' to burn it onto CD. Why does Sony do this?
Clive Handy, Guildford, UK
I have bought over 20 songs from Apple's iTunes Music Store. I am delighted that I can get individual songs, the same CD quality, quickly and cheaper than buying a whole CD. It's the rip-off record companies over charging Apple and shops for their CDs that's the problem. Why should I be forced to buy a whole CD, when I only want half the songs?
John Ross, Welwyn Garden City, Herts
I've been using Apple Computer's iTunes store since it was launched. Apart from the odd vintage rarity, I have ceased buying CDs altogether. I was sceptical of downloads at first, but my opinion had been tainted by poor quality illegal MP3 files. Apple's AAC format is really good quality, though I must admit to converting most of my files to MP3 to maintain low file-sizes and extend compatibilty with other devices. I've only ever had one music file fail during a download and Customer Service were quick to rectify the issue, it wasn't as if I had to drive into town and plead with a record store shop assistant that the CD was scratched when I bought it.
Downloads are definately the way to go and I think we are only just seeing the tip of the iceberg at the moment.
Paul Fillingham, Nottingham, UK
I had been using iTunes music store since it opened in the UK and bought plenty of music on there. However, recently one of my hard disks failed and I lost all my music. No matter, I thought, I will re-rip the CDs I have and re-download the music I bought on iTunes, after all, they have a record of every track I have paid for.
Alas, the music I paid for has gone forever. I find it staggering that such an obvious benefit of online music distribution has been overlooked. Back to ripping CDs from shops and obtaining single tracks 'through other means' for me.
Chris Ashworth, Basingstoke, UK
I recently purchased an album of the Wanadoo music club website, yet everytime I tried to play it on Windows Media Player, it said the format was not supported, even though it was a Windows Media audio file! Wanadoo could not help me so just refunded me. I then bought a single off the same site, and this time it said I could not aquire the licence to play it. Again, Wanadoo could not help and have so far failed to refund me. I have also used the site on a another PC to download another album, only to find my iRiver will not play it, despite it saying it can play WMA files. I am unlikely to be using the internet to download songs in the future if this is the hassle it causes...I'd father spend a a quid more for a CD I can actually listen to!
Jonny Casey, Chester, England
I love being able to buy individual songs I have heard on the radio (Radio 2's playlist with all the info is brilliant). Buy the music, transfer to iPod, create new playlist and burn said music to CD which will play on anything (have tested standalone CD player, computer (both platforms), DVD player which supports audio playback. I don't know what all the fuss is about.
If specific instructions and advice on these music sites were clear and understandable, then problems people have with their media would undoubtedly drop. In general people want their computers to make their lives eaiser, not frustrate them. Instructions are never presented in an attention-grabbing format and on most of the products I own they are not the easiest of reading. There must be a way of making the instructions more user friendly
gareth, shropshire, uk
Digital downloads in its present form doomed to failure. High price, poor quality, and DRM restrictions are the main obstacles to mass market. The reason it is popular at the moment is the novelty, and most young people don't care about quality, as long as it is loud enough.
Peter Revesz, Newbury
The whole concept is ridiculous. Would you really buy a CD that you could only play on one brand of CD player? That you couldn't play in the car as well as at home and in your CD Walkman? A CD that has sound quality comparable to an old cassette tape at best? No, no, no!
Mark Serlin, London UK
The problem is the websites you download from do not give clear information about the restrictions on the music. I copied some songs onto a CD and when the CD was lost I tried to make another one but of course the DRM kicked in and I was prevented from doing so. I had to effectively buy the song again to burn it. My advice, buy CDs. They cost the same without the restrictions!
KR, London, UK
The biggest issue for me is cost. Why pay for an album download, which has poorer quality sound and all the associated DRM issues, when the CD is typically cheaper to buy via an online store, or through a high street promotional offer?
I am not surprised at all that people are become dissatisfied with the DRM restrictions placed onto music files they have bought. I saw this coming a long way off and have never bought and will never buy songs with DRM on them. I also do not swap songs online either - but I do buy high quality, unrestricted song files from a legal source at a fraction of the cost of the well known online music suppliers.
D Brown, York
Would you buy a car which could only drive to five locations on just three roads, required repurchasing when it broke down, with only three people a day allowed to be passengers and no option for other drivers to use it....and it cost more than a normal car without all the problems?
Part of the joy of buying an album is the fact you can hold it in your hand, with an inlay that you can look through whilst first listening to the album. Downloading just isn't the same
I bought a Sony HD recorder and have used their Connect Music Store. The software is amongst the worst I've ever used and the service is appalling. If you need to do a system restore on your PC, I discovered, the DRM system will decide you're obviously up to no good and "lock" all your music. Both the stuff you've laboriously copied yourself from your own CDs and the stuff you've legally downloaded. I lost several albums I'd paid £8.99 to download and was told my only choice was to pay for them again. I could have bought the physical CDs for that price, had better sound quality and less aggravation.
Richard Thomas, London, England
PC Pro have got it spot on. In many cases it is almost as cheap to buy the physical CD as compared to the online price. In some cases it is cheaper.
A quick search of CD Wow and iTunes shows many chart CD's priced at £8:75 on CD Wow and £7.99 on iTunes.
Buying the CD provides me with a physical product that should last years, is free from DRM and can be freely encoded into a number of formats should I buy a music player.
iTunes and other similar online stores provide a digital copy that is encoded at a quality far below that of CD and restricted in the rights that I have to use it.
It just goes to show how out of touch the music labels are with the wishes of the paying public.
Stephen Roberts, Birmingham
I won't buy DRM'd music. I want to play the music I buy on whatever system I wish. DRM is causing the music industry to lose my custom. Trouble is most people aren't aware of what DRM is and how it restricts them.
I refuse to buy a product that I cannot fully use because of digital rights management. I don't download pirated music, and I resent having my rights limited because other people do. Until this ridiculous system is replaced, I will not be downloading music.
William Allen, London, UK