Image suggesting that iTunes is the best digital music service ever. Source:
Considering there was a discussion at work on Saturday about iTunes and lock-in, the EFF's release of a guide outlining the restrictions imposed by the three most popular online music stores (iTunes Music Store, Napster 2.0, and RealNetworks). It is reasonably short, so it is worth reading if you have purchased or are considering purchasing music from online music stores. The most troublesome aspect of the three main online music stores is the possibility of increased restrictions in the future. Apple, for example, has already shown a propensity to restrict the freedom of users of iTunes and iTMS by shutting out third-party clients, reducing the number of computers that iTunes can stream to during a 24 hour period, and lowering the number of times you could burn iTMS-purchased music to CD.

The possibility that Apple will further restrict the ability to play iTMS purchased music in the future is one of the reasons I refuse to use their music store. Of course, my growing piles of CDs clutter up my room at home (and a drawer at school). The EFF suggests some alternative online music stores at the beginning of their guide.

Of the four stores mentioned, the two I am most likely to use are Bleep and Audio Lunchbox. eMusic seemed too pushy about getting me into a free trial for their subscription-based service (I prefer pay-as-you-go services), and I do not really like live music enough to consider Live Downloads.

Bleep is the weaker of the two, with an ugly user interface and a limited selection of music (yes, there is some Stephen Malkmus and Franz Ferdinand due to their deal with Domino Records, but not much else; all of the Arcade Fire releases note that they are "not for sale in the United States"). At least one of the albums on the site is available as a FLAC download, which is really cool.[1]

I was slightly disturbed at the fact that I could not find the EULA for Bleep online. From a Google-cached copy on Warp Records' website, I was dismayed to see their terms:

You shall be authorized to store as unlimited copies of the Product on any media, provided that these copies are for personal non-commercial use only. The Product or copies of the Product may not be resold or streamed either for profit or non-profit use...

Considering that the EFF lambasts the major online music stores for not providing rights of first sale to their customers, it seems strange that they would recommend Bleep. The terms would seem to prohibit you from using iTunes to stream music purchased from the service!

Audio Lunchbox has a better interface and a nice selection. Some quick searching found the latest albums from the New Pornographers, John Vanderslice, and most of the Decemberists' releases (although not Castaways & Cutouts, The Tain, nor Picaresque). They also get props for pricing songs at 99 cents, and allowing you to download in MP3 or OGG.

Aforementioned props get removed quickly upon perusal of the Audio Lunchbox Terms of Use:

All downloaded music, images, video, artwork, text, software and other copyrightable materials ("Content") are sublicensed to End Users and not sold, notwithstanding use of the terms "sell," "purchase," "order," or "buy" on the Site or this Agreement. Your downloadable music ("Digital Download") sublicense is nonexclusive, nontransferable, and nonsublicensable. End Users may play their Digital Downloads an unlimited number of times on the same registered personal computer or any other secondary or portable device. The End User may "burn" their Digital Downloads from the Primary Computer to make unlimited permanent copies in an uncompressed form conforming to the industry "Red Book" technical specifications to either "write once" blank recordable CD-R compact discs conforming to the industry standard "Orange Book Part II" technical specifications and/or blank "re-writable" CD-RW compact discs.

Not only can I not resell the digital music I download, but if I back it up on my external hard drive or to DVD instead of to CD, Audio Lunchbox can send goons to my house to delete them.
You may not play and then redigitize any Works, or upload those Works to the Internet.

This seems to suggest that I cannot transcode the music from OGG to M4A, which might be necessary if I wanted to play it on my iPod.
To make a purchase, you must at least disclose to us all of the following: (i) your name, (ii) mailing address including zip code or equivalent, (iii) transaction data including credit card number and titles of albums or songs purchased.

It is a digital music download. There is no reason that Audio Lunchbox needs my mailing address.

In fact, Audio Lunchbox's Privacy Policy suggests that they have a relatively permissive attitude toward the collection of personal information. Describing events that might cause them to disclose your personal information:

Occasionally Audio Lunchbox may be asked by law enforcement or judicial authorities to provide personal information to the appropriate governmental authorities. We will disclose personal information upon receipt of a court order, subpoena, or to cooperate with a law enforcement investigation, without prior notice to you.

While I understand that a court order or subpoena would require Audio Lunchbox to give up my personal information, I am not sure about "cooperation." It suggests that any law enforcement official can call up Audio Lunchbox and receive my personal information, regardless of whether a judge has approved the matter.

And God forbid you wanted to stop Audio Lunchbox from using your information:

You may edit the personal information that you provide to us. You can review, change, or delete the information that you have submitted. You may change any of your personal information in your customer account online at any time. We expect you to promptly update your information if it changes. You may ask to have the information on your account deleted or removed but you cannot delete information associated with past purchases. As a security measure, the data stored on our systems is "backed up," and such prior information cannot effectively be removed from our databases. Accordingly, you should not expect that all of your personal information will be completely removed from our backed-up databases.

Apparently, Audio Lunchbox does not have access to the backups of their system data, since they are unable to "effectively remove" your information.

The Terms of Use for Audio Lunchbox and Bleep seem sufficiently regressive as to prevent me from recommending them in place of the iTunes Music Store, Napster, or RealNetworks. I will continue to buy CDs, rather than submit to the prohibitive Terms of Use in place at online music stores.

[1] FLAC is cool because it is lossless - meaning that the audio file is the same quality as a CD. Other audio formats like MP3, WMA, M4A, and OGG are "lossy" - they save space by reducing audio quality. Lossless audio can be written to CD and back (a process called transcoding) without losing quality.