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Offa My Cloud (Part Deux)

by Paul Rapp on June 29, 2011

I’m in Montreal at the jazz festival (more on that next week), but I’ll put down my breakfast beer just long enough to inform you about the latest doings in the zany world of information and music.

You might have recently heard something about Apple and the Cloud. There are two parts to this, and I’m not sure what the fuss is about, at least in the short term.

First, when you buy a song from iTunes, Apple will deliver that song to all of your devices: your computer(s), your phone(s), your iPads(s), whatever is wireless. I guess this is significant. In order for this to happen, the record companies and publishers (who think they control the rights to the music tracks) must have all signed off on the idea that iTunes can send to you as many as 10 “copies” of a song for the price of one. It reflects the reality that people will bounce tracks around their devices anyway, but in the ostrich-vision world of Big Media, reality rarely rides in the front seat.

The thing is, from surveying a sample of one (me), I’m not sure everyone wants everything they buy to get automatically loaded into everything they own. I download songs to my computer, and then decide what I want to go on my phone. I curate what’s on my phone and for good reason: If I tried to load everything in my library (56 days and counting) to my phone, I fear time would start to go backwards and the devil child will awaken and rain misery on us all. So, big deal on this.

Second, and this is where it gets a little more interesting: This fall, Apple unveils its “iCloud MusicMatch” service. It’s a cloud-based music locker, like those also offered by Amazon, Best Buy, and a few others. You can upload your music library to Apple’s servers and access them anywhere you have broadband or Wi-Fi. The twist is that for $25, Apple will replace your uploaded tracks with official iTunes tracks. Reportedly, it won’t matter where you got your tracks, whether you ripped them from a CD, copped them from Limewire or Rapidshare or BitTorrent or your friend’s hard drive, Apple will replace up to 20,000 tracks with high-quality 256 bps MP3s. Also, the process is supposed to be lightning-fast: Word has it that the other music locker offerings are sluggish (I haven’t used any of them and probably never will) and you can spend days uploading your stuff. Apple says its system can handle your library in hours, not days, and, I imagine, especially if you have an Apple rig at home.

So? What’s it all mean, kemo sabe? Well, for this to happen, Apple had to get sign-offs from the big record companies and publishers. The record companies will be getting something like $13 out of the $25 fee, and no word what the publishers get. One sycophantic industry dope wrote about what a victory this was for the labels, getting 13 whole dollars from each MusicMatch customer! What she didn’t mention was that for $13, a customer will be able to convert thousands of “pirated” tracks to legitimate iTunes tracks, which the labels used to think were worth 99 cents each. D’oh!

A few paranoid critics have declared this a trap to catch “pirates.” Arrr-Matey! As you may or may not know, all MP3s have unique embedded tags in them, some that come from online stores, some that occur during the ripping process, and so on. The argument goes that it is theoretically possible to determine which of the MP3s in your collection were “legitimately purchased” or ripped by you, and which were “illegitimately” given to you by a friend or shared through Limewire or some other online source. So, it’s theoretically possible that you could upload your library to Apple, pay your $25, and get a big fat nastygram from an RIAA lawyer demanding thousands of dollars for all your “illegal” tracks.

Ummm. That’s pretty stupid. But given the RIAA’s lengthy dalliance with stupidity, who knows?

My problem is that a pretty good proportion of my tracks probably aren’t in iTunes’ 18 million-track database. And then there’s all the issues about the Cloud I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago. But, I dunno, for $25 to have some of my old 128 and 192 bps tracks tricked out to 256? Might be worth a few hours of my time.

But the biggest problem, as pointed out by lots of folks, most notably The New York Times’ Jon Pareles last weekend, is that this still isn’t the cloud-based “celestial jukebox” everybody’s waiting for. It’s just glorified storage. It’s still ownership-based.

Maybe that comes in the coming weeks when Facebook announces its music feature, which, as rumor has it, is going to include Spotify, the true cloud-based music-streaming service that’s taken Europe by storm. Watch this space.