iTunes Match is a pretty good name for Apple's cloud music service -- simple, evocative, a combination of the words "iTunes" and "Match" -- but a better name for it might be iNapster.
If this newfangled iTunes Match thing really will play any song you have in your library, no matter where you downloaded that song from, then Apple's newest release could do more to encourage rampant, reckless, illegal music downloading than the invention of the high-speed T1 line.
iTunes Match is a pirate's delight. If you love listening to a lot of music, and you also love mindlessly and illegally downloading gigabyte upon gigabyte of music all at once, grabbing at songs and albums like 20 dollar bills raining fast from an exploding ATM, then iTunes Match is a solid investment at $25 per year.
Here's the rundown of the Apple music service/pirate's dream-come-true, released early Monday: iTunes Match allows you to listen to any song in your music library on up to 10 different devices at very high quality. One of the great advantages and selling points of iTunes Match -- and even now, no one is quite sure how Apple convinced the labels that this was a good idea for them -- is source forgiveness; that is, it doesn't matter to iTunes Match where you got your music. If a song is in your library, you can listen to it on whatever device you want in 256kbps AAC format (a.k.a. better quality than whatever yours is). You could hold a Talkboy up to your AM radio, and if iTunes recognizes the song you've recorded as "Pumped Up Kicks," you'll be able to listen to your Foster the People in super clear definition on any of your machines without having actually bought anything except a very cheap yearly service from Apple (and, I suppose, a Talkboy and an AM radio).
While this is good news for thrifty audiophiles, it is especially good news for thrifty audiophiles who are also serial pirates (as opposed to cereal pirates). With this source agnosticism, or blindness, or forgiveness, in place, iTunes Match makes downloading as much music as you can, from any source whatsoever, a totally valid and necessary activity for anyone who has shelled out money for the service.
So let the pirating begin! Get out your PirateBay, your Mediafire, your Rapidshare and your Demonoid shortcuts! Ready your BitTorrent client, your uTorrent software, your Winzip and your 7zip and your BetterZip and your WinRAR! Reacquaint yourself with your favorite torrent-sharing community, your go-to forum or message board for leaks and untraceable downloads, your best search tricks for eluding the Web Sheriff! It is a music piracy renaissance, and it is all thanks to the kindness and ingenuity of the folks at Apple Incorporated!
Most music listeners -- not the devoted torrent barons, on one side of the spectrum, nor those upright citizens who chastely pledge their money to the iTunes Music Store one $10 album at a time, on the other -- are now faced with an incredibly tempting option to revert to piracy.
Spotify, a rival to iTunes Match that launched in America over the summer, has been widely hailed as a piracy killer and praised for making successful a model that in no way encourages illegal downloads. With Spotify, there is no real advantage to illegally downloading music, since every song you could want exists in the Spotify cloud (unless you're a fan of Arcade Fire or Coldplay, that is). There is no reason to use BitTorrent because Spotify is your legal BitTorrent: an always-available, seemingly infinite library of high-quality, unedited tunes.
iTunes Match turns that model on its head and forces the customer to provide the infinite library, a catalogue that a certain percentage of people -- say, 99 percent of them -- cannot responsibly afford to legally obtain. 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. 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).
Ahoy, mateys! Apple, once the purveyor of absurd music ownership restrictions and the universally-despised, amazingly frustrating DRM system, is welcoming all you pirates aboard. Will you set sail?