iTunes update disables Internet playlist sharing

Apple today released an update to iTunes, its digital music player software. The new version, 4.0.1, can be downloading through the Software Update system preference pane. iTunes 4.0.1 gains performance and network enhancements, according to Apple, but one feature has been disabled: Internet-based playlist sharing.

iTunes 4 introduced several enhancements to Apple's popular digital music player, including support for Dolby Advanced Audio Codec (AAC) and the ability to browse and buy music from Apple's iTunes Music Store. The software also introduced the ability for users to share each others' playlists through Apple's zero-configuration networking technology, Rendezvous.

This playlist-sharing technology had a fringe benefit: It also enabled iTunes 4 users to share each other's playlists over the Internet. Entering another user's IP address in the Advanced Menu's "Connect to Shared Music" selection provided users with access, regardless of location or proximity.

Although iTunes possesses no innate way for users to download one another's music files directly using this method, iTunes' music sharing capability was seen as a possible means to facilitate piracy, as users could, through the use of third-party software, record the remote stream and thus download illicit copies of the music themselves.

Apple has reduced this functionality with the new release of iTunes. Apple notes that iTunes 4.0.1 "only allows music sharing between computers using iTunes 4.0.1 or later on a local network (in the same subnet)."

When questioned about the change in iTunes 4.0.1's music sharing capability, Apple offered the following statement to MacCentral:

"Over three million songs have been purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Music Store to date, and the mechanisms we put in place to secure that music against theft are working well -- music purchased from the iTunes Music Store can only be played on up to three authorized Macintosh computers, and there has been no breach of this security.

"However, Rendezvous music sharing, another new feature in iTunes 4, has been used by some in ways that have surprised and disappointed us. We designed it to allow friends and family to easily stream (not copy) their music between computers at home or in a small group setting, and it does this well. But some people are taking advantage of it to stream music over the Internet to people they do not even know. This was never the intent. While Rendezvous music sharing does not compromise music purchased from the iTunes Music Store, which will only play on three authorized Macs, it does allow the sharing of music imported from CDs, for example.

"The new iTunes 4.0.1 update limits Rendezvous music sharing to work only between computers on a local network (its intended use) and disables music sharing over the Internet. All iTunes 4 users should upgrade to iTunes 4.0.1."

After its original posting, this article was updated with Apple's comments.

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