Is iTunes Match a pirate's charter? Or a way for record companies to snoop through your music collection?

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First up, great to see Steve Jobs back at work yesterday. I am sure everyone in the world wishes him well. As for the slew of new announcements at the WWDC, well some are clearly more interesting than others. The one that has caused the most heated debate among websites and blogs is the unveiling of Apple’s new music innovation iTunes Match.

Basically all your purchased tracks or movies from iTunes can be synced across devices by accessing the all new iCloud, wirelessly at no additional charge. A “Purchased” button is added to iTunes, letting you look at all albums and flicks bought across all devices, sharing them across all devices by hitting an iCloud button. Each music track is sent as an AAC file, with a bitrate of 256kbps.

The controversial bit though is the iTunes Match service. This will scan for any locally stored tracks that you have ripped or bought outside of iTunes, find a matching track in the Apple catalogue, and send that to all your devices via the iCloud. As an additional service, iTunes Match comes at an additional cost; $24.99 annually. However, there is no cap to the amount of iTunes Match songs you use, so that’s $24.99 for anything between 1 song or 1 billion+ songs.

Now have a quick think. How many of the tunes on your hard disks are, shall we say totally legit? I am sure that most people, even if they have been downloading from iTunes, eMusic and Amazon for years now, have a few strays that they might have pinched from less than legitimate sources. Then of course there’s a big chunk of the music downloading population who have never paid for any music at all.

So, let’s get this straight, for a one-off fee all those dodgy MP3s are now replicated as high quality downloads at no extra cost.

Does this then mean that iTunes in the cloud is a pirate’s charter?

Yes

Put simply you could grab a huge number of high quality downloads without, err paying for them. Simply download shed loads of tracks from not legitimate sources and then pay your cash to Apple and get the pristine legit versions. It does beg the question why would you pay all that money for the iTunes downloads in the first place? Has Apple just killed its Golden Goose?

No

We need to remember which company we are dealing with. Apple has spent years developing cosy relationships with record companies and are obviously very committed to fighting musical piracy. It wouldn’t be a huge jump for Apple to update its terms and conditions to include a clause that it could share user’s information with third parties- namely record companies or their representatives. They will then know that you haven’t been too legit in your purchases and you may just get a knock on your door. Alternatively, even if Apple doesn’t play ball with the record companies who is to say that some court will force their hand and the information about all your tracks whether downloaded legally or illegally or ripped from a CD will be the record companies.

Maybe

Of course shopping millions of music lovers would not exactly be great PR for Apple. Also, just like Twitter users and super injunctions involving footballers, it is going to be a bit hard to prosecute everyone. I also think that people will large collections of illegally downloaded music are not going be rushing to let Apple ferret around their music anyhow.

Still, iTunes in the cloud is a very interesting move from Apple and it’ll be fascinating to see where it all ends.

Ashley Norris

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