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Will iTunes Match Let Apple See Your Pirated Music?

Some pundits worry that the new service could even remove pirated tracks.

Are you worried that iCloud could tell Apple just how much music you’ve pirated? A humorous infographic by technology and pop culture comic Joy of Tech suggests that a lot of people are.

iTunes Match is a service that makes it easy for Apple’s customers to get their music into the company’s cloud, whether they originally bought it from iTunes or not. For about $25 a year, the service scans your music collection, maps it to Apple’s iTunes library, and automatically places high-quality versions of the songs into your iCloud account, making it easy to download them onto any device loaded with iTunes.

But if Apple can somehow detect illegal downloads, perhaps it could also delete them from a user’s library.

Forbes’ Parmy Olson asked Pirate Bay cofounder Peter Sunde for his thoughts:

[Sunde] says iTunes Match marks a big step towards consumers losing control of their media. The problem isn’t the $25, it’s that it doesn’t make sense to pay Apple, with its closed-source system, to gain access to music you’ve downloaded. More crucial than that, he says, is what that could mean for the future of sharing music. […]

Sunde’s other big worry is that some day, Apple might actively remove music tracks from your iCloud account which are deemed illegal. “They might say, you can’t do that, so you have to remove it,” Sunde says, adding that when your music is put on iCloud, Apple essentially owns that data, not you. It’s stored on their server, not yours. “So they [could] also decide which music you can’t have. That’s what you’re allowing in the future.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt of CNN Money sees the situation differently, suggesting that the $25 fee every year is actually the cost of amnesty from record-label interference with pirates:

A one-time charge of $25 to convert up to 25,000 pirated songs to legal iTunes-plus quality copies is a no brainer. If [my kids] plan to continue stealing music, however, they’ll have to make a calculation at the end of the year. Have they collected enough new music to justify spending another $25 to bring them into the iTunes fold?

Ars Technica’s Chris Foresman says Apple is unlikely to get involved in policing pirated content one way or the other:

There doesn’t appear to be a reliable way for Apple to know for certain if a particular song has been pirated—barring certain metadata that could be easily stripped out—so really the only benefit is that low-quality rips get replaced with high-quality rips.

Even if Apple doesn’t police tracks, however, its deal with record companies may mean that they get paid royalties on the tracks it pulls into the cloud, according to a report ahead of the announcement by the New York Post:

The music companies will divide the fee with Apple, with the tech firm taking a 30 percent cut, 12 percent going to music publishers, and the rest to the labels to divide with their artists.

In some cases, this means that labels and artists are getting paid for pirated tracks; in others, they’ll get paid twice for a song a user bought once.

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