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Music pirates won’t rush to iCloud for forgiveness

Some people, including on this site, have suggested there’s a loophole in Apple’s new iCloud that will allow people who illegally download music to somehow “launder” their dirty music files, getting a…

If you download shanties illegally, the iCloud may not float your boat. sean cumiskey

Some people, including on this site, have suggested there’s a loophole in Apple’s new iCloud that will allow people who illegally download music to somehow “launder” their dirty music files, getting a nice clean, and legal, license to the music stored on iCloud. This argument is flawed for two main reasons.

The first has to do with how the laws of copyright work and the second is to do with why people share or download music (and movies) in the first place.

The law

Unlike existing cloud services offered by Amazon and Google, Apple will search your hard disk looking for music; for any track it recognises, it will give you access to download a legitimate version of that track from the iCloud.

In Australia, copyright law allows the public to “format-shift” their music. If you have a CD, you’re allowed to “rip” it into another format so that you can listen to the music on another device such as an iPod or phone.

You can even share this music with other members of your household, but not with anyone outside. Importantly, you have to keep the original copy of the music. If you give that original away, or sell it, you have to get rid of all copies you’ve made of the music.

iTunes Match, which, at a cost of $24.99, matches a user’s existing music library against the 18 million tracks held in iTunes store, will work on the basis of assuming that you have a legal version of the music on your disk.

It will have to do this to stay in keeping with the copyright laws in the US which are similar to that in Australia. So if you were acting illegally before you used Apple’s iCloud, you will still be deemed illegal afterwards.

Dancing in the dark

The second and probably more relevant issue is this: why you would anyone bother to “launder” their pirated music? Some 60% of 18 to 24 year olds surveyed in the UK in 2009 admitted to using peer-to-peer networks to download music.

They had, on average, 8,000 music files in their collection – a staggering 17 days’ worth of tunes. The main reasons cited for downloading illegally were to do with cost (it was free), accessing hard-to-get music and simply trying new music out.

The other key findings of this survey were that the majority of the young people were more bothered by the moral aspect of piracy (the fact musicians are losing money) than the legal one.

They were not particularly interested in streaming the music, as offered by a number of services currently. Physical ownership of the files was important because it meant they could transfer them to other devices, as was the fact they could listen to music offline (in the car or on the bus, for example).

Teenage kicks

Picture this: I am a 16 year old with 8,000 music files and I only feel mildly guilty that I downloaded them or got them from my friends.

I listen to the music mostly on my computer and then on my iPod, which I synchronise with my computer after having carefully constructed my favourite playlists.

Why would I feel motivated to pay $25 a year to download this exact same music again?

It certainly won’t be, as some have been arguing, so I can claim to be the legal owner of the music – even if I cared about this, I clearly wouldn’t be the legal owner.

Live and let die

Downloading music and movies gives people access to things they would not be able to access any other way, either because it would cost too much or because it’s simply not available for sale.

Competing against “free-and-now” is hard to do, but there are signs that the music industry at least is starting to do exactly that.

It used to be the case that live music was the promotional, loss-making part of the business to drive recorded music sales.

Increasingly, the music industry is seeing that the money can be made from live music, concerts and music festivals, while the recorded music could be used as a give-away to promote these social events.

Live is the only thing that can’t be replicated: everything else – with or without the iCloud – is up for grabs.

Do you agree or disagree with the points in this article? Leave your comments below.

Join the conversation

12 Comments sorted by

  1. Paul Richards

    I enjoyed your article David.

    You are right OSX 10.7 iCloud is not about the
    prodigal user. Regardless if the recording industry
    likes it or not, the "win - loose" stance hasn't
    worked for them.

    Apple's iTunes has revolutionised the way music
    is sold and iCloud will go further in accepting the
    real world reality of people sharing music as they
    have for thousands of years.

    ICloud cleverly brings peer to peer users back
    to their software for convenient transference
    and quality upgrade…

    Read more
  2. Kevin K

    IT Professional

    Very good article. I would draw more attention to the fact that those with 8000 or more songs in their library are probably regularly listening to a tenth of them, probably less. The lure of "Free" doesn't just drive users to download music that's too expensive, it drives them to download music they wouldn't otherwise bother with... even if it was 50 cents a song, or 25 cents a song. A person will walk out of a garage sale with useless trash if it's free, it's part of our psyche.

    As for iCloud…

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  3. John Stambaugh

    logged in via Facebook

    I want to combine two bits from you article:

    "Apple will search your hard disk looking for music; for any track it recognises, it will give you access to download a legitimate version of that track from the iCloud."


    iTunes Match, "will work on the basis of assuming that you have a legal version of the music on your disk."

    Here is my question:
    How long until authorities either ask or demand that Apple stops assuming that I have legal possession of the music on my computer?

    Do I really want…

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  4. Jim Margolis

    logged in via Twitter

    But how can Apple [or Google, etc.] possibly discern “pirated” tracks from ones that are rightfully owned?

    Other than the fact that a pirated track is identical to its progeny (a similarity that is presumably obliterated by cleaning the track’s tag of identifying markers, attaching correct cover art, etc. All of which changes the file size too) what makes a legal copy any different from an illegal copy?

    And before you say “ownership of the original” what happens if someone loses their original…

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  5. Chris Bitmead


    There's a massive flaw in this article. iTunes match DESTROYS your original copy. Let's say you buy song XYZ in MP3 format from Amazon music store. iTunes match will notice this song is one they sell, it will delete it, and replace it with an iTunes AAC format file. Now how are you going to prove you owned the original? The whole point of the service is that you no longer have to own a PC, hoarding your massive music collection. Your ultimate copy resides in the ephemeral cloud. That is the "original", from which you can download it to any of your devices. So you have indeed "laundered" your music, since if the authorities were to come knocking asking for the original, you point up in the sky to the nearest cloud and say "there it is".

    1. Brian Andrews

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Bitmead


      I feel you may be overlook a critical point. The matter isn't if you have illegal music, the problem lies in if you downloaded illegal music. This is proven in a number of questionable ways, to include ip logs and ISP records. I don't believe that you are allowed to take a copy of someone elses legally copied music, even if you own an equitable original. Due to this, if they can prove you downloaded the file, it is prima facie evidence.

    2. Chris Bitmead


      In reply to Brian Andrews

      Firstly, whether your thesis is correct or not, that is not the premise of the article. The premise of the article is that if you have a pre-existing music collection of dubious origin, then iTunes match won't help its legal status. The premise of the article is not about the legality of downloading music.

      Secondly, I've never heard of any lawsuits, either here or in America against people downloading music. The lawsuits are always about uploading music. There's a lot of reasons for this, one would be that the downloader can't be sure that what he is downloading is copyrighted material until he has already downloaded it. You might think you're downloading a public domain song by your next door neighbour called "Gloria", but it is actually the song by Van Morrison. The uploader is the one responsible to not copy the song he doesn't own, not the downloader.

    3. Adam Wade

      In reply to Chris Bitmead

      Chris, I don't know where you came up with that, but you are completely wrong.

      Apple is not going to delete anything off your hard drive, ROFL.

      Even if they did (they most certainly are not), they still could not destroy a backup copy on another hard drive, or burned out to hard media, etc. As most smart people have their music backed up anyway, this wouldn't be an issue in the first place.

      Again, though, not sure where you got that wacky idea but it's simply not true. Apple is scanning them…

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    4. Paul Richards

      In reply to Chris Bitmead

      Mr Chris Bitmead your comment that;
                "iTunes match DESTROYS your original copy."
      To put it politely, is a little flawed.
      As a copy of your music you uploaded to iTunes, comes from either an original CD or a literally is in a music format downloaded from the cloud.  
        "It will delete it, and replace it with an iTunes AAC format file" 
      Replacement will be your choice, as is converting to ACC or any format. Keeping an original is your prerogative. Apple is and always has been about ease of…

      Read more
    5. Chris Bitmead


      In reply to Paul Richards

      "Replacement will be your choice, as is converting to ACC or any format. Keeping an original is your prerogative."

      Well we've yet to see the details, about whether you get a choice. Even assuming you get a choice its reasonable to assume the procedure will encourage you to trash your old copy leaving you with only the upgraded copy. One can hardly believe this brave new cloud based world from Apple would encourage you to actually double your local disk space by keeping now 2 copies where you previously…

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    6. Paul Richards

      In reply to Chris Bitmead

      I stand corrected.
      I see this as a "win win" scenario, how you write show's me you swim in another pond.

      If you read yourself, right on your front foot you made the statement;

      "iTunes match DESTROYS your original copy"

      What other message than antagonism and negativity were you trying to stimulate?

      You can believe that Apple's aim is to be the only source of music code or to destroy the desktop.
      But it doesn't make it correct.

      I feel completely justified in reading 'negativity…

      Read more
    7. Chris Bitmead


      In reply to Paul Richards

      Err, "itunes destroys your original copy" is merely a technical description of what occurs. How a technical procedure can be "antagonistic and negative" I can't imagine. (At least I presume it is what occurs. When Apple said it "replaces" your original copy, language seems to dictate the old is gone, the new appears).

      Now you're putting more words in my mouth that I think Apple aims to be the only source of music or to destroy the desktop. Didn't say either of those things either.

      Neither did I say "pirates will rush to the cloud for forgiveness" either. I never made a single comment about whether anyone would be motivated to do such a thing, only that the technical procedure would result in that outcome.