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Apple Music's dirty little secret: DRM
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MacNN Staff
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Aug 9, 2015, 11:50 PM
While there has been a lot of fanfare surrounding the launch of the Apple Music service, it hasn't been without its hiccups. Apple commentator Jim Dalrymple, among other users, ran into the some serious issues with a bug that saw music that he owned in his library being incorrectly identified as being Apple Music offline files. This resulted in DRM being incorrectly applied to those tracks, which -- when he switched off Apple Music in an attempt to fix the issue -- caused those files to be purged from his library altogether.

Thankfully, Apple has issued an iTunes patch that resolved similar problems some users had been experiencing, if not all iTunes database issues. Further, as we have pointed out here , the new Music app that accompanied the launch of Apple Music has resulted in a user interface that is cluttered and potentially confusing. Could this latest issue that we have identified be a deal killer for Apple Music, especially for music aficionados?

Syncing music to your iPhone used to require users to physically connect their iPhone to a Mac or PC with iTunes in order to move tracks from your library across to your device. Although this approach had its critics, as it forces users to use the iTunes desktop app -- which not everyone likes for various reasons -- it made the process of getting music from your computer to your iPhone pretty straightforward.

The arrival of iTunes Match, powered by the iCloud Music Library service, meant that you no longer need to connect your iPhone to your computer to get your music on it. Once the matching process has been completed, your music becomes available to you everywhere via a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. While it is undoubtedly convenient, it means that you have to have a good Wi-Fi connection or a mobile cellular plan with plenty of data available to either stream your music or download it. iTunes Match, it should be noted, continues as a standalone service paid service if you choose to pay for it, but not subscribe to the Apple Music streaming service.

Apple Music works on a similar basis to iTunes Match -- except that instead of matching the music that you already have your collection with unprotected AAC files already in the iCloud Music library that you can either stream of download for offline listening, it allows you to have access to millions of tracks that you don't own, but can rent, for both streaming and offline listening contained in the same local iPhone library as your own music. The notable difference here is that Apple Music files that have been downloaded for offline listening are DRM protected files, because they are not owned by you -- cancel your Apple Music subscription, and you will no longer have access to these files. Note, this is different to the Dalrymple issue, as these are not tracks that you originally owned either on CD, or purchased through iTunes or another online retailer.

The problem with Apple Music activated, and indeed with iTunes Match activated, is that you can no longer sync music directly from your Mac or PC, but must either stream or download these files to listen to them, as the sync functionality is automatically disabled. For some people, no longer being tied to your Mac or PC in order to access your music library from anywhere is a boon. Having access to the world's largest jukebox, at 40 million songs and counting, is remarkable.

The big downside, however, comes for music aficionados. If you have ripped your CD collection (as I have) in the Apple Lossless format (ALAC) (or purchased lossless files from an online digital lossless format store) you no longer have access to these files in this format if you have an active Apple Music account. Where matched with the iCloud Music library, these will be swapped out for 256kbps AAC files. We have reached out to Apple to find out what happens to ALAC tracks that have not been matched and will update this story when we should hear back.

At present, the only way of enjoying your Apple lossless files with their additional dynamic range is to sync them with an iPod classic, as this older generation of iPods doesn't require you log in with an Apple ID. Have the same Apple ID logged in on a newer iPod, and you will still have the same issue, as it will recognize that you have an Apple Music subscription, and only allow you sync your files by downloading them. Sign out of your Apple ID, and you will again be able to manually sync the lossless files back to you iPod.

So while there may be lot to like about Apple Music, it does come at the expense of being able to listen to your music where available as ALAC. This is not to say that 256kbps AAC files are not good – this is far from the case. Apple's 256kbps AAC format is just fine for the majority of listeners. Music aficionados may, however, be able to spot the difference in the listening experience.

Of course, if and when Apple launches a high-resolution audio service, which has been rumored once or twice, Apple Music may not be the music subscriptions service for you. The other option would be for Apple to find a way allow users to manually sync their local library, while allowing users to also stream and download files for offline listening while subscribed to Apple Music.

A third option for music aficionados is to avoid Apple Music for the time being, and manually sync your ALAC files as you once did. This, however, leaves you in a position where the Music app for iOS has additional functionality that is now rendered useless, given Apple's decision to integrate the Apple Music service into the new Music app. If you still want to stream music, you could opt for a competing service like Google Play Music, but this is still limited to 256kbps-AAC-equivalent 326kbps MP3 files. Or you could subscribe to Tidal, which offers an (albeit more expensive) lossless music streaming and offline listening experience.

We'll keep talking to Apple about this problem, and let you know when a resolution has been found.

-- Sanjiv Sathiah
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Aug 10, 2015 at 09:31 AM. )
James Katt
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Aug 10, 2015, 07:32 AM
Obviously, on any streaming service where you can listen to the music offline, there is going to be DRM. After all, if you quit the service, you aren't expected to keep the music you haven't bought.
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Aug 10, 2015, 07:38 AM
It has also screwed up peoples movies as well. If you have ripped them and had iTunes import them they now have iTunes Apples extension on them.
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Aug 10, 2015, 08:43 AM
"then caused those files from his library altogether." Huh?
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Aug 16, 2015, 10:01 AM
Now looking at storing all of my music outside of iTunes. I simply can't trust iTunes with it. My only problem is, as bad as iTunes is, there's no good third party alternatives that meet my needs. I want to store my music on a server, and optionally "check it out" it to my Macs and iOS devices for playback when I'm home and away.
Spheric Harlot
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Aug 16, 2015, 11:21 AM
It's called a "backup", hayesk.
Sanjiv Sathiah
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Aug 16, 2015, 08:51 PM
@sphericharlot Apple is making backups more essential by the day. Shame we can't also roll back OS updates and other updates as you can in Windows, when you learn that the update cocks up your system.
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Aug 17, 2015, 05:24 AM
While I agree that it would be nice to be able roll back updates, claiming that backups are somehow more essential today is really just a telltale sign of someone who hasn't been around for long.

I point to the iTunes update that completely ERASED all external drives with a space in their volume names, about a decade ago.
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