iTunes Match arrives

iTunes Match: Many Apple IDs under one iCloud

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iTunes Match arrives

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With iTunes Match’s release on Monday, we’ve been discovering a slew of interesting tidbits about Apple’s cloud-based music service. Our own Dan Moren went hands-on with iTunes Match earlier Monday, and we’re putting together a set of answers to frequently-asked questions, too. To find out what people were curious about, we asked our Twitter followers for iTunes Match questions, and reader Michael Rodgers asked if Apple had “in any way addressed those of us with multiple iTunes accounts with DRM music.”

I drafted editorial director Jason Snell to help me figure this one out, and we’ve got good news: Any computer that is authorized to play protected iTunes music can add that music to iTunes Match. This is the case even if the Apple ID being used for iTunes Match isn’t the same one that was used to buy the music.

I have an album in my iTunes library that was purchased using a family member’s Apple ID. This album was purchased in the days before iTunes went DRM-free, so every song is a Protected AAC file—that is, they are copy-protected and linked to a single Apple ID. My laptop is authorized to play content purchased by that ID, so I can listen to the song on my computer and on my iPhone; unfortunately, I can’t move it to any other computer of mine (my iMac at work, for example) because that Apple ID has reached its limit of five authorized computers, and protected iTunes music won’t play on computers that are unauthorized.

Enter iTunes Match. When I enabled the service on my laptop, those protected songs showed up with an iCloud Status of Matched. This is the same status iTunes Match uses for songs you’ve ripped from a CD or received from other sources, and it indicates that you can re-download the song again as a DRM-free 256-kbps AAC file.

Before and after: Delete and re-download a protected song you're authorized to play, and it will convert to a DRM-free AAC.

When I deleted one of these protected songs from my library and re-downloaded it by clicking the iCloud download button, ownership was transferred to my iTunes Match account and the file downloaded as a DRM-free AAC file. So I can now listen that Mike Doughty album on my work iMac, too.

Protected songs you aren't authorized to play are not eligible for iTunes Match.

Jason and I confirmed that this will only work with songs your computer is authorized to play. I tried adding a protected song of Jason’s—which I am not authorized to play—to my iTunes library, and iTunes Match told me it was “Not Eligible” for matching. Once Jason authorized my computer, however, the track status changed to “Matched,” and I was able to delete it and re-download it as my own. When Jason de-authorized my computer, the tracks tied to his iTunes ID were removed from iCloud.

Un-protected purchases do not have this restriction: I added a DRM-free iTunes song to my library that Jason had purchased, and it immediately showed up as “Matched,” no authorization required. (Of course, giving songs to your friends is still illegal. iTunes Match doesn’t change that.)

Both of these methods will require a track that still exists on the iTunes Store; if the track has been pulled, you’ll be given the option to upload the song, but when you re-download it, it will return to your library as a protected .m4p file (if it has DRM) or a DRM-free file with the original owner in its metadata.

While there are almost certainly ways to abuse this feature, it’s good news for families and other groups who bought iTunes music from more than one account in the bad old days of DRM. Once you purchase a subscription to iTunes Match, you can merge all your music into a single Apple ID by re-downloading tracks, and on top of that, you can stream it to ten different devices. It only works for music—you can’t do this for mobile apps, videos, podcasts, or any number of other iTunes Store purchases—but it’s a nice start.

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