Posted Tuesday, May 13, 2003

iTunesDL and iSlurp: Downloading via iTunes Sharing

Updated, as described below.

I suppose it had to happen. There are now programs that enable you to download -- that's download, not just stream -- music that other iTunes users are sharing through iTunes 4.

The programs are called iTunesDL and iSlurp, the latter debuting today in a crude beta form. I tried them. They work.

First, I went to ShareiTunes to find some shared libraries. When I found a library that looked interesting, I Control-clicked its link to copy its URL to the Mac's Clipboard.

Next, I switched to iTunesDL and iSlurp and pasted the URL in. My first few attempts were unsuccessful. Then I tried deleting the "daap://" specifier from the URL, leaving only the actual address of the shared library.

Within a few seconds, a list of the songs in that library appeared. I located a song that I already owned, clicked Download, and the program downloaded the song, storing it on my hard drive, where I could add it to my own iTunes music library.

In its current, embryonic form, iSlurp is the lesser of the two programs. Browsing is cumbersome, for example -- iSlurp doesn't list artists, albums, and genres in sortable columns. iTunesDL provides a much nicer interface, including a Search box.

If their developers manage to avoid courtrooms, programs like iTunesDL and iSlurp will turn iTunes into a powerful, peer-to-peer music swapping platform.

Will recording industry lawyers be able to shut down this kind of back-door swapping? It seems unlikely. Unlike overt file-stealing services such as LimeWire, iTunesDL and iSlurp don't rely on users explicitly making their music available for download. These programs simply take advantage of the fact that users have activated iTunes' sharing feature -- a feature that is intended for streaming, not downloading. Thus, users aren't doing anything wrong when they make their music available -- even though some people may be stealing it, not streaming it.

Something tells me this isn't what Apple had in mind.

Note: The original version of the above covered only iSlurp. Shortly after I posted it, a reader emailed me to tell me about iTunesDL, which I'd somehow not heard of. I then updated the post accordingly.

One more thing. In reporting on iTunesDL and iSlurp, I'm not advocating music theft. Stealing from an artist is wrong, not to mention a bit twisted.