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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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