I've been using iTunes Match since the service launched in 2011, and it's been nothing but great until now. At the time, I had a personal laptop and a work computer, along with an iPhone that maybe held 16 gigs. The fact that I could just upload my extensive music library up to Apple's servers and stream or download any of my songs onto any of those devices at any time was a game changer. I'm one of those people who still likes to buy music whenever possible (maybe it's karmic, and I'm hoping someone buys my music some time, too), so I've continued to use the service, downloading my preferred albums at any given to listen to on-the-go instead of dipping into my data plan.
Honestly, the only quirk I discovered with the service was a blessing in disguise. iTunes Match will upload any of your music, but if matches something that already exists in their library, they'll let you download the corresponding high-resolution audio files. I had a lot of shitty CD-rips from high school that were suddenly returned to their high-quality glory, and freed of those obnoxious data squelches on the high end.
That is, until the other day. When I had a hankering to listen to "I Don't Want To Be An Asshole Anymore" by the Menzingers. 'Cause it's great song!
Except it wasn't there. In fact, the entire album was missing from my library. I own the entire Menzingers discography — purchased music! — and Rented World was now completely gone.
I'm not idiot, so I do keep backups of my iTunes library. In fact, when I purchase songs from the iTunes Store (like I did with this Menzingers album), I convert them into WAVs and then manually re-upload them into my iTunes Match library, just to be triple-sure that I always have a good quality recording available.
I reached out to Apple, and I was told that, "This album has been modified by the content provider for many reasons. […] From time to time our content providers update their items in the catalog to ensure the highest possible quality for our customers," and that this was why I could no longer directly re-download the album from the iTunes Store.
This is, of course, the inevitable risk of buying any kind of digital media — you don't actually own it. You're technically just buying a license to access that media, which can be revoked at any time. Presumably, that's what happened here (although Apple wouldn't just say so directly). I'm certainly surprised that Epitaph — a famously independent punk rock record label — would revoke the license for one Menzingers album while leaving the rest of them intact on the iTunes Store. But music licensing is messy.
What's particularly frustrating, however, is that I had manually converted the entire Rented World album into non-Apple music files, and re-uploaded those into iTunes Match — specifically to avoid this kind of situation. While I'm not that surprised that Apple still embedded something in the audio files that would allow them to keep tracking the song across different formats, I am appalled that they could and would remove those files from my iTunes Match library as well.
Again, I have backups, so it's not the end of the world. But the fact that I'm paying Apple for a service that specifically lets me upload and access my personal library to their servers — and that they can still reserve the right to delete things from that library if they so choose — is deeply concerning.
And Apple, despite their infamous customer service, has been utterly useless, refusing to offer any clear answers.
Image: mik_p / Flickr (CC 2.0)