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Apple’s iCloud is no safe haven for some iTunes purchases

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With today’s devices, there simply is not enough room to store a sizable music library and have enough space left over to do other tasks. The new Macbook Air starts out with as little as a 128GB SSD, iPads can be purchased with only 16GB of internal memory and you can still get an iPhone with just 8GB of space.

Enter iTunes Match. iTunes Match was designed to store your entire music collection in iCloud, even music you’ve imported from CDs or purchased somewhere other than iTunes. With it you can store up to 25,000 songs in iCloud (more if songs are purchased from the iTunes Store), only what you play or download is stored on your device. It sounds like a perfect solution, but there is a catch.

Music you purchase from Apple via iTunes will remain in your iTunes Match music library so long as Apple has the right to continue selling the music. As soon as the music label pulls any song or album from the iTunes Music Store, Apple will remove it from your iTunes Match Library as well. Not only that, but you will no longer be able to re-download your previously purchased music from your iTunes Store account.

iTunes Match Error

This has recently happened to me when a series of albums that I purchased from the iTunes Music Store disappeared from my iTunes Match music library. I tried logging in to my iTunes account and to see if I could re-download the music from the list of prior purchases but the albums were gone. The response that I got from Apple’s iTunes customer support team was that the music label must have modified the albums in some way, or pulled the albums from the store then added them back to the store with a new ID.

I understand that you are not seeing the songs on the list, I’m afraid to inform you that the items may no longer be available or if they are still available on the store, they have been modified by the content providers since you have purchased them.  I understand the inconvenience of this case, however, we won’t be able to make the songs available for you to download again. – iTunes Store Customer Support

What is really bothersome about the whole thing is that these were albums that I previously accessed via iTunes Match; songs I thought were stored in my iCloud music library. But since they were purchased from iTunes and not uploaded, they were not really in my iCloud music library to begin with. If I would have subscribed to iTunes Match after the purchased songs were removed from the iTunes Music Store, they would have been uploaded to my iTunes Match library and I would still be able to listen to them.

Rather than think of iTunes Match as online storage solution for your purchased music, think of it more like having access to a colossal lending library for music. So long as Apple has the rights to sell the music you want to listen to, you will be able to listen to it. Learn from my mistake and be sure to back up all of your iTunes purchases to some sort of external storage device shortly after making each purchase.

28 Responses to “Apple’s iCloud is no safe haven for some iTunes purchases”

  1. Realizing that a lot of random music has gone missing from my library and concerned that I had no idea how to figure out WHAT was missing, I landed here (and a hundred other places). You guys are all rightfully upset. REFUND – YES! I’d settle for simple notification, though!! I don’t think that is too much to ask since Apple OBVIOUSLY has thought through this issue long before anyone called to say, hey! where’s my music?! I have recommended iTunes Match to some friends and even I feel compelled to notify THEM that my recommendation was misguided.

    What else have I learned? To answer the question of how music gets removed from your own hard drive… One scenario might be: You’re migrating to a new drive or machine, etc. using iTunes match (so you don’t have to sit and wait for your enormous library to copy). Without realizing what you’ve done, you created the potential disaster where iTunes can now wipe (through syncing w/ the cloud) files from your local library. I had migrated using iTunes Match and then found there were a ton of duplicate files being listed (1 in cloud, one not) and so I started removing dupes. All those files eventually got wiped when the labels altered the “ID” of the song. If you ask me, there are also issues that occur if you customize metadata and try to sync. I’ve always thought iTunes Match was an anomalous Apple BARGAIN and now I understand why. I’m so furious… mostly because I feel a cloud that is not mine should NEVER have the ability to delete files from my computer. This is the current situation that most don’t even realize exists today.

    To the person who cried out for a consumer protection advocate? There are none. The customer is no longer ‘always right’ and companies like iTunes, Warner Bros., SonyBMG, etc. are way too big to care if you pitch a fit. No one hears you scream.

    I am immediately returning now to purchasing the hard media for albums I’m interested in buying and I’m going to start my DVD burn/rip routine again (copying mp3’s to DVD and reimporting the same mp3 is still an effective method of removing the scarlet ‘purchased’ letter from your files.

    I agree 1000% about fidelity as well. Some of the missing tracks I bought twice, in fact.. once as a 128 bit mp3 and later to have it ‘upgraded’ to a 256bit track.. with a built in self-destruct mechanism. I really miss hearing things in hi-fi. In high school 25 years ago I spent $1,000 hard earned dollars on a PAIR of speakers and a head unit for my car and bragged about my amazing triple digital recordings, etc. Today I’m a sucker who’s buying 256bit recordings that it seems I don’t really own and I’m wirelessly streaming music via cruddy Bluetooth to 2″ portable speakers that run on 4 AA batteries. Help, indeed. <— longest thing I've ever written online. If anyone is still with me, thanks. I feel a little better. ; )

  2. Stupid question: if you had downloaded the music to your computers itunes library they would have presumably been safe. Based on that logic you could also have re matched and have them uploaded?

    That would seem to make sense but I’m not sure!

  3. George Guerrette

    Let’s be clear about a couple of things.

    1) This is not Apple’s doing; this is the content owner’s doing (the publishers and, in the case of film/TV, distributors). THEY have ultimate control over iTunes’ content. iTunes is merely a conduit with a 30% cut of the sales to cover costs and some profit.

    2) iTunes’ Terms and Conditions lay the fact out that, ultimately, you have no ownership of the content you buy through iTunes. The terms state:

    “Apple and its licensors reserve the right to change, suspend, remove, or disable access to any iTunes Products, content, or other materials comprising a part of the iTunes Service at any time without notice. In no event will Apple be liable for making these changes”

    “Apple is the provider of the App and Book Services that permit you to LICENSE (my emphasis) software products and digital content (the “App and Book Products”) for end user use only under the terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement.” A license means you have secured permission to utilize the content, not own that iteration of the content (your digital copy of the content, as downloaded from iTunes) outright.

    Regarding Mac App and App Store purchases:
    “The software products made available through the Mac App Store and App Store (collectively, the “App Store Products”) are licensed, not sold, to you.”

    3) By having already used the iTunes and App Store applications to purchase — er, I mean LICENSE — content THROUGH Apple you have agreed to these terms and conditions. Therefore, you “own” nothing — and you have agreed to own nothing.

    4) Point the finger of blame to where it’s due…in a mirror. You agreed to all of this. That said, consider Apple’s position; WHY would they WANT TO limit your access to content through them? For every dollar spent in their stores, they get .30¢ of it! They build massive data centers to do this. There’s no way they would want to limit, rescind or deny you access to content, nor make it difficult for you to do so. In fact, the better and easier they make their vertically integrated ecosystem…the more gear they sell and the more content IS LICENSED THROUGH THEM — at .30¢ a pop.

    In fact, were it not for Apple pounding on the doors of the record labels before the iTunes Store opened…we might never be able to legally access music online at all…and there are definite advantages for the end-user the way it works these days.

    Regardless, this is a great article that really does hammer home this fact: use the cloud as a junction, not a destination.

    • Matthew Fero

      If the record labels pull their content from the iTunes store, your iTunes library will not suddenly “poof” and disappear from your computer. That content which you have downloaded from the store, or uploaded from CDs will be there until you delete it yourself. The menu of offerings in the iTunes Store itself is labile, and therein what is available via the iTunes Match subscription.

  4. Hmm…never considered that I could get away with not having all my music locally backed up. So this is not an issue for me. Nonetheless it is a cautionary tale for those who would rely on third-parties to always keep their customers’ personal interests in mind when making business decisions.

    • More and more users are becoming Apple customers without ever having a Mac or a hard drive anywhere in the house. Consider an iPad, iPhone, AirPrint(er), AppleTV and AirPort only customer. I do know of people that are accessing the world this way. No Macs, no PCs, and no Hard Drives anywhere. Times are changing. Expecting customers to have the means to perform local backups may no longer be an option.

  5. Dan Cormack

    A similar thing happened to me with video purchases. The Spongebob Squarepants videos were sold by seasons but someone figured out that they could make more money by selling the videos in volumes (where a volume is a partial season). When I went to re-download videos previously purchased, I found that I couldn’t. Apple support told me that I was out of luck and should have made backups.
    This all flies in the face of Apple pushing us to stream more rather than store locally. They really need to rethink the way they are doing this because it’s hurting customers.

  6. notgonnadoit

    This is why I don’t purchase any digital downloadable content for real money. If I want music, I buy the CD from Amazon and rip it into my iTunes app. That way, should anything bad happen, I still have the physical media with the purchased content on it.

    Regarding Amazon e-books, I only download the free kindle offerings they provide. Should Amazon pull the “nope, can’t have it no more” plug, at least I’m not out my hard-earned dollars.

    The “cloud” is turning out to be a huge boondoggle, for a variety of reasons, in my opinion.

    • Tara Beth

      “If I want music, I buy the CD from Amazon and rip it into my iTunes app. That way, should anything bad happen, I still have the physical media with the purchased content on it.”

      Thanks for sharing grandpa.

    • TrueStory

      Yes, I do something similar in case “anything bad happens” as it usually does.

      But ITunes still useful as you say. Other times (like today) when I tried to back it all up on a USB flashdrive, its a bloody nightmare, and I nearly lost it all …..

      Is it worth it, I ask myself.


  7. after the snowden affair, no information is safe, but why do we have to have 50 million copies of the same song swimming around the internet, in everyone’s cloud etc, when we only need a few to feed us all. this story reminds me of the loaves and fishes, i guess we live in a world possessed rather than a smart one, like we think we do

    • Matthew Fero

      That’s exactly the point, with iTunes Match Apple does not store 50 million copies of the same song. It ID’s your music and gives you access to those songs in the iTunes store on an annual subscription basis from multiple devices over the internet.

      The odd little piece in this article is, “a series of albums that I purchased from the iTunes Music Store disappeared from my iTunes Match music library.” What about the originals in your regular iTunes library? The songs should still be located on the device to which you originally downloaded them, unless you deleted them yourself. I can see this happening if you download a song to a iOS device and then delete it, for space reasons, without having backed it up somewhere else.

      I suspect that the attraction of iTunes match, is that it give people legit multiple device access to all their music, even to their illegal downloads (which seems to a substantial portion of most peoples collections). So with this in mind, it is exactly like a subscription services. Its a little ironic to complain about losing access to this — not to say that was Geoffrey’s case.

      • thanks for the thoughts, the next big thing i suppose is sound quality, and that will come with time, neil young is working on a system called pure tone, he says it outshines all other forms of sound recording on devices, we’ll see in time , but if there is quantity, we need more quality sound

  8. The moral of the story is iCloud is NOT a backup solution (even the link to Apple’s website states so) its a syncing solution. As long as you have your music backup somewhere like Time Capsule it is still yours. I think mentioning this caveat in the article would have prevented the cries to alert consumer protection agencies.

    • While I understand what you are saying, iCloud does have a service where you can back up your device to iCloud. It is considered a backup service for your iOS devices in that regard. Ironically it is even called iCloud Backup.

      And yes, it does clearly state “Previous purchases may be unavailable if they have been refunded or are no longer available in the store.” But I’m starting to feel a little like Kyle on South Park (ep. 210).

  9. Didn’t Amazon have something like this happen with its ebooks on the kindle?

    I think fundamentally when you buy something even if it’s electronic it should become yours, they must have something the terms and conditions that protects them from being sued which is ridiculous.

    I agree with the comments, at least you should get an apology, and your money back.

    Thank you for sharing, I will go back up my music right now :-)

  10. Nicholas Paredes

    I have frankly noticed that music is missing. My library is a bit large, and I can’t even tell for certain, but Tubeway Army is the flag that made me notice. If that in fact happened, I will be canceling my iTunes cloud services and moving to Amazon. As an incredibly loyal Apple customer, and somebody who has purchased music equating to mid-sized BMWs, this is not good form.

    Thankfully, I have a terabyte hard drive with the library safely secure, although sifting though that many albums is not a task that will make me happy.