Learn where you can--and where you cannot--play your Google content

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by TechHive's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

Aviva received a $50 Google Play gift certificate. How does Google's formats and DRM policy effect where she can enjoy the music, movies, and books she buys?

When you legally buy downloadable content, the company you buy it from often has veto power over where it can play. This is all part of the ugly truth of Digital Rights Management (DRM).  The publishers, in trying to keep you from sharing your content with others, make it possible for retailers like Google to completely control how and where you can watch, read, or listen to what you buy.

Google sells music, reading material (books and magazines), and video (movies and TV shows), and treats all three differently. I wish they sold books and movies as openly as they sell music.

[Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com or post them on the PCW Answer Line forum.]


Click for full image

Absolutely no problems here. Google sells songs as unprotected .mp3 files. You can play your songs anywhere, on any digital music device, without proving to anyone that you have a right to play them.

That's not really surprising. With the very large exception of iTunes, pretty much everyone selling downloadable music these days sells unprotected .mp3s (iTunes sells unprotected ACCs). I'm glad to say that DRM is effectively a thing of the past for audio-only content.

Books and magazines

This is where DRM raises its ugly head. There are workarounds, but basically, you can read what you buy where Google says you can read it.

Luckily, Google lets you read books on a number of platforms.

Not surprisingly, books you bought on Google Play run fine on any Android device. The Play Books app, which probably came with your phone or tablet, can download your Google books for easy reading at your convenience.

Click for full image

It's almost as easy with an iPhone or iPad. You can download Google Play Books free from the App Store.

You can also read your books on any modern browser. You'll have to be logged onto your Google account (such as Gmail), of course.

A more serious problem: Google won't let you download a book to your browser; you have to be online to read it.

But there's a workaround. The free Google Books Downloader does just what the name implies, saving the book as a .pdf. But it's not a perfect solution. It saves the pages as bitmaps, not as text. That makes the .pdf very large, unsearchable, and not as legible as it should be.

Movies & TV

Here Google Play gets really restrictive--unless you want to watch your movies on (or through) your Android device. The Play Movies & TV app, which probably came with your phone, is simple and intuitive. You can even download a video for later viewing.

Outside of that, your only option is streaming the video on your browser. I tried various techniques for downloading a video, but none of them worked. Viewing your videos on a PC, therefore, requires a good Internet connection (or perhaps a trick that I haven't yet found).

Click for full size

If there's a workable way to watch Google Play video on an iPhone or iPad, I haven't found that one, either. Forget about using your browser; Google Play requires Flash, which iOS doesn't allow. Nor does Google provide an app.

Note: On May 15, I altered this post to clarify iTunes' policies.

This story, "Learn where you can--and where you cannot--play your Google content" was originally published by PCWorld.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon