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iTunes Match Makes Unlocked Copies

Apple has suffered from ambiguity and false starts lately, such as announcing the end of MobileMe nearly two weeks before having a document ready to explain the nuance (see “Apple Details Transition from MobileMe to iCloud,” 24 June 2011), and shipping Final Cut Pro X days before it had the answers published to obvious questions from professional customers.

The same is true with iTunes Match, a new subscription service that will be part of iTunes in the Cloud (see “iCloud Rolls In, Extended Forecast Calls for Disruption,” 6 June 2011). With iTunes Match, Apple said, you’ll be able to pay $25 a year to sync all the music you didn’t purchase from the iTunes Store through iCloud to your various computers and iOS devices. Instead of uploading 100 percent of your own music, however, Apple would use a variety of metadata and audio-matching algorithms to check whether a song you owned was the same as one in its 18-million item catalog.

What will happen after the match occurs has been rather confusing, and Apple has provided mixed guidance. On its Web site promoting iCloud, Apple continues to state:

All you have to upload is what iTunes can’t match. Which is much faster than starting from scratch. And all the music iTunes matches plays back at 256-Kbps iTunes Plus quality — even if your original copy was of lower quality

We wondered if Apple was applying digital rights management (DRM) encryption to matched files. Otherwise, what would stop someone from paying $25 for one year, matching all their songs, and walking away with higher quality files forever? This information has been available, though, in a place I should have looked: a press release that came out on 6 June 2011 but which I just found out about after Apple changed links to existing releases on the press relations portion of its Web site.

In the press release, Apple makes crystal clear what’s going to happen, something that was missed by many, thanks to the vast amount of news that came out that day. The relevant sentence:

In addition, music not purchased from iTunes can gain the same benefits by using iTunes Match, a service that replaces your music with a 256 kbps AAC DRM-free version if we can match it to the over 18 million songs in the iTunes Store, it makes the matched music available in minutes (instead of weeks to upload your entire music library), and uploads only the small percentage of unmatched music.

There you have it. You’ll be able to upgrade all your ripped files that aren’t up to snuff — avoiding replacing, say, your lossless FLAC versions — with the best Apple and the labels have to offer, for what is essentially a one-time $25 fee. This is the right way to do it, and it’s an awfully nice gift for those of us, like yours truly, who ripped their CDs at lower quality many years ago.


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Comments about iTunes Match Makes Unlocked Copies
(Comments are closed.)

Joachim  2011-06-30 23:17
Well I admit it is a nice way of handling this, but on the other hand you could go ahead and re-rip all your CDs at a higher quality... so whilst they (Labels/Apple) are saving you the trouble and potentially a lot of work, it's not that they are making you a gift really.
The version of the Music you have is DRM free (self ripped) but of a lower quality. I for one wouldn't consider to use match if my previously self-ripped music turns into a higher quality but then DRM version !
Of course the real questionable stuff is when you have ripped other peoples CDs or downloaded ripped mp3 files. But in a real world scenario almost nobody would go ahead and re-buy music that she/he already have in their iTunes library just to up the quality. So this is not costing anybody any true revenue. And the match-move saves Apple and it's users the endless upload process.
Again a nice generous way of handling it, but not a true financial loss to anyone.
just my 2 cts - Jo
Only thing I can think of is that apple will tag those matched song with your identity so that it can be traced to you should you pass them on.
This probably was one of the concessions AAPL had to make to get the green light from the Music people.
Doug Hoiles  2011-07-01 07:28
Any way to make this work with music “ripped” from phonograph records and cassette tapes? I doubt it.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-01 07:52
The system Apple is using will apparently do audio matching in which looser matches are possible (a la Shazam), as well as loose metadata matches. So if your ripped songs are tagged closely to what the actual album and songs are, then it could work.
Kendall  2011-07-01 09:28
I'm still a big confused. So I can download better versions to my iOS devices, but this match/share feature leaves me with lower quality (if that's what I had) music on my computer--my originally ripped files? I mean, that's fine--it's just amusing that I get better versions elsewhere only. (Although the phrasing "replaces your music" implies even my local copies get replaced--but I wouldn't want those disappearing, forcing me to re-rip, if I don't renew....)

I guess Apple will tag the files so they know what to delete after a year if I don't renew?

(I'm not interested in iTunes Match but want to fully understand it in case I change my mind.)
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-01 09:35
My understanding now (and after having talked to more colleagues who got an answer from Apple; I did not) is that once your files are matched, you can opt to sync to any location that you're using with iCloud. So that includes copying files to computers running iTunes, and to iOS devices.

Dwight Silverman and I were discussing whether "replaces" means "moves your rips into a separate folder" or "deletes your rips." Apple sometimes makes back choices about preserving original data.

As far as not renewing and having the iTunes Match files removed: Apple would have to delete those out of your iTunes library, and, even then, they are DRM free, so you'd simply need a backup copy or to run them through a watermark or metadata scrubber.

I believe once you download the iTunes Match matched files, they're yours.
Howard  2011-07-01 10:48
This is nothing new ! I watched the original presentation by Jobs and this was crystal clear at the time. I really don't know why this writer felt the need to suggest confusion.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-01 14:48
I watched the same thing you did, and it lacked a clarity about several issues, which still remain unclear on Apple's marketing site — although, as I say, the press release provided far greater detail than either Jobs's keynote or the current Apple iCloud site.

I asked among colleagues, and they had a range of opinions: some thought it was crystal clear, like you, despite missing key words and promises; others thought DRM had to be involved; others felt there was no simple answer.

I asked Apple PR for clarification weeks ago. Never received a response.
Francisco Hirsch  2011-07-03 08:39
I wonder if iTunes Match will be available for those of us that live in countries without an iTunes Music Store
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-04 06:44
I would be surprised, purely because of the licensing aspects.
Jeff Faubel  2011-07-03 16:02
Thanks Glenn. This clarifies things....somewhat. The question in my mind is whether Apple will offer a selective sync from the iCloud matched files to iTunes on the desktop.

Let's hope they offer a filter to avoid replacing lossless files with 256kbps AAC files. At the very least, it's attractive as a backup program for $25 per month.

Has anyone seen any mention regarding the cap on the amount of data Apple will allow users that subscribe to the full library match? $25 for a 410Gb iTunes library is far less than AWS S3 would charge.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-04 11:50
5 GB free is what's been stated so far, and you can purchase more storage, but at a rate no one has described.

However, the tricky part is that Apple says music that's in their catalog doesn't count against the total. Only music it has to upload.

So if you have 410 GB of music and 400 GB of that matches against Apple's, you don't need much storage at all.

But if you like a particular kind of Japanese anime-related street music, well....
crucialwax  2011-07-04 10:38
I don't see this as clear at all. It doesn't say anywhere that you download songs with iTunes Match. It says you can listen at 256kbps. This might mean streaming only, or it might mean some kind of drm wrapped download that expires when your itunes match subscription expires. I honestly think people aren't reading this stuff carefully enough, and are assuming too much.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-04 11:38
That's what I thought before. But if you look at the slide Jobs use in the keynote (which I had skipped over before), and look at this press release, it's "replacing" music in your iTunes library with DRM-free versions.

It's not a download unless you sync, because the "truth" is in the cloud, as Jobs said: your library's master copy will be in iCloud, and you will use iTunes in the Cloud to download specific instances of it.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2011-07-04 18:04
iTunes Match will be a very good deal if it in fact works as you describe. But I'll be waiting to see what the early adopters have to say before taking the plunge. For what it's worth, I chose 256 kbps for encoding all the music I ripped from CDs. But I have tracks from friends that they recorded at a lower bitrate, for which Match will prove useful.

What I think is still unclear is whether Match will replace songs recorded at a higher bitrate or in Apple Lossless or some other non-lossy format. One might assume that the system could compare the metadata and not touch anything above 256 kbps, but you know what they say about making assumptions.
Chris Kohuch  2011-07-04 18:11
As someone who lives in Canada, I'll be curious how long this part of the iCloud service takes to roll out here and in other non-US countries as they will undoubtedly have to line up licensing deals in each market.
jcerro  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2011-07-05 15:48
Is there any information about how Apple will be handling music purchased through the iTunes Store in the years before the DRM-free iTunes Plus became available?

For example, I've been purchasing music via iTunes since 2003, and I have hundreds of DRM-protected 128 kbps songs from the iTunes Store. Right now, I can go to the iTunes Store Quick Links, click on "iTunes Plus", and it would cost me around $400 to upgrade everything to iTunes Plus. If I wait for iTunes Match, will the $25 annual fee allow me to upgrade all those old tunes to iTunes Plus format instead of paying hundreds of dollars?

One might assume the answer would be "yes", but it's best never to assume anything when it comes to Apple.

As an experiment which may or may not be relevant, I removed a few of the songs that were in the old format from my iTunes library, and then I redownloaded them using the iTunes Store's "Purchased" Tool. The versions that were downloaded were still in DRM-protected 128 kbps format.
Louis Bergeron  2011-07-12 10:24
I am surprised by that move which clearly tells people that it is ok to pirate anything that moves. I wonder how that will work in Canada. So it means you use file sharing software to get the songs and after that you legalize them with Itunes for a mere 25$/year. Why buy the songs from Itunes if you get the same result pirating. I am a bit confused.
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2011-07-12 13:15
iTunes Match does *not* tell people it's okay to download songs from other sources without paying for them. Even if you want to think of this as the song equivalent money laundering, it doesn't wipe away the original bad act. Anyone who thinks that way already has plenty of other rationalizations to excuse what they're doing to themselves.

iTunes Match is a smart, pragmatic offering by both Apple and the labels. How much are they making off the "pirated" songs people downloaded? Nothing. How much will they make off those songs once those people sign up for iTunes Match? Something. Any attempt to confirm the legitimacy of the original files or lock up the Match offerings would make the service worse for all and make it less likely to succeed.
Brad P  2011-07-22 13:23
Glenn, have you determined yet how Match will treat an iTunes library of Apple Lossless files? I'm hoping that it will match them, providing the 256 AAC version via the cloud to my other devices, while allowing my iTunes Library to remain Apple Lossless. Replacement would be terrible. Also, I'm hoping that unmatched songs will remain Apple Lossless in my Library but upon upload they will be converted to AAC (I shouldn't have to convert them myself first within iTunes). Can you confirm either of these at this point?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-22 13:25
Magic Jobs-Ball still says, "Answer hazy. STOP ASKING. I'LL TELL YOU LATER!"

I expect we may not have an answer until iCloud is fully operational with iTunes Match later this year.