Posted Wednesday, May 28, 2003

iTunes 4.0.1 Thwarts Music Pirates. Or Does It?

A genie is awfully hard to put back into a bottle.

Yesterday, Apple released iTunes 4.0.1, a minor update that is causing a major uproar -- at least among music lovers who wear eye patches.

iTunes 4.0.1 removes the ability to share your music over the Internet. The "Connect to Shared Music" command is no more, and if you attempt to connect to a shared library using a site such as ShareiTunes, your browser displays an error message.

In iTunes 4.0.1, music sharing is back where Apple claims it was intended it to be all along: on your own local network.

It's hard to take Apple's claim seriously, given that Internet sharing was built into iTunes 4. But we aren't here to question claims, at least not now. Let's focus instead on what iTunes 4.0.1 does and does not do.

The new update does:

- Make it impossible, apparently, to use iTunes to share your music library in legal, fair-use ways. For instance, if you upgrade to 4.0.1, you can no longer listen to your home music library while at work. (There are workarounds for this that don't involve using iTunes; I'll write about them in a future dispatch.)

- Throw a wrench into the works of iTunes sharing portals such as ShareiTunes and iTuneShare. If the operators of these sites had visions of hitching a ride to fame and fortune through iTunes sharing, it's time for them to revisit their plans. See also Shawn Fanning.

- Fix some audio-distortion and other playback problems that could occur when playing back AAC-encoded files. (The problem was most likely to occur when you used iTunes audio-processing features such as the equalizer.) There's some genuinely good news.

But there is one thing that iTunes 4.0.1 doesn't accomplish: put an end to iTunes-based music theft. There's a passionate (and probably small) group of iTunes users who are determined to make their music available for downloading. Those folks are not going to upgrade to version 4.0.1. (At least not until they have to -- Apple could, for instance, require that users upgrade when a significant Mac OS X update is released.)

And finally, there's this: In one way, iTunes 4.0.1 makes it easier to locate the address of a shared iTunes library. As I wrote in a previous dispatch, iTunes sharing portals cloak the address of a shared library in order to keep you from pecking the address into a theft utility such as iTunesDL.

However, once you install iTunes 4.0.1, your browser no longer knows how to handle the "daap://" specifier that iTunes 4.0 used. What happens next? Internet Explorer displays an error message -- and the message contains the Internet address of the shared library. So much for cloaking.

In the end, Apple did the right thing by disabling iTunes Internet sharing. More to the point, it did the necessary thing -- it's got to be hard to get a skittish recording industry to sign on your new music service when your software is allowing a small minority of users to steal music.

The demise of sharing is lamentable but understandable. And the genie is still out of the bottle.

Elsewhere on the Web:
MacCentral's article on iTunes 4.0.1
Apple halts iTunes' Internet sharing ability: The Register
Apple Backtracks on iTunes Music Sharing: Beta News