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SAN ANSELMO, CA - NOVEMBER 16: A  Beatles song plays on an iPod November 16, 2010 in San Anselmo, California. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) SAN ANSELMO, CA - NOVEMBER 16: A Beatles song plays on an iPod November 16, 2010 in San Anselmo, California. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)  

As Apple debuts cloud-based music service, effect on online piracy uncertain

Apple released its long-awaited cloud-based music service iTunes Match Monday, enabling users to access their music libraries from any authorized device for a yearly subscription fee. The service has tech bloggers wondering if iTunes Match is an answer to the problem of music piracy, or a new facilitator.

The software, available with the new iTunes 10.5.1 update, scans a user’s music library and matches it with music in the iTunes store. Currently only available to iTunes users for a $25 per year subscription in the U.S., the software also allows users to access their library across any Apple device or authorized device with iCloud — Apple’s cloud, or virtual storage, service.

CNET’s Josh Lowensohn called iTunes Match “a solution for problem Apple helped create.” Until the advent of iCloud, if an iTunes user lost music purchased through the iTunes store — whether the music file was deleted or a user’s hard drive crashed — a person would have to re-purchase the music.

The service allows subscription holders to upload any music file to iCloud, even if the files were not previously purchased through the iTunes store — including unlicensed, and possibly pirated, music.  The service finds and replaces songs with a higher-quality licensed version.

Spotify, a legal music file-sharing service, allows users share with friends via the “cloud” and pays the music industry license fees to allow users to do so.  Before iTunes Match, it too had been touted as a piracy-killer.

Jason Gilbert, a technology blogger for The Huffington Post, on the other hand, called iTunes Match “a pirate’s delight.” Gilbert said that while Pandora and Spotify took away the incentives to pirate music, because users could pay for access to vast music libraries, iTunes Match users can replace low-quality pirated music with higher-quality versions, creating a “pirating amnesty.”

“iTunes and iTunes Match still very much represent a stale and antiquated mode of music discovery; that is, paying for music before you hear it and deciding after you part with your money whether or not you like it,” wrote Gilbert. “Pandora, Spotify and a heckuva lot of others disrupted the model, and now iTunes, with iTunes Match, is trying to win some of its deserters back with the temptation of what amounts to pirating amnesty (not from the RIAA, but from Apple).”

David Gerwitz of ZDNet wrote in June that the advent of iCloud was an “elegant solution to the pirated music problem.” iTunes Match is the next step for Apple after iCloud.

Released two weeks later than previously anticipated, the service has a 25,000-song limit.  Google is also set to unveil a new offering, Google Music Store, for Android devices on Wednesday.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to discuss the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), legislation dedicated to targeting websites that facilitate copyright infringement.

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