Perhaps, you've heard about it. A composer claimed that the Apple Music service "stole" music from his laptop. And a discussion with the service's customer service department produced no resolution nor satisfaction. James Pinkstone wrote:
"I had just explained to Amber [in customer service] that 122 GB of music files were missing from my laptop. I’d already visited the online forum... several people had described problems similar to mine, they were all dismissed by condescending “gurus” who simply said that we had mislocated our files... Amber explained that I should blow off these dismissive “solutions” offered online because Apple employees don’t officially use the forums... What Amber explained was exactly what I’d feared: through the Apple Music subscription, which I had, Apple now deletes files from its users’ computers. When I signed up for Apple Music, iTunes evaluated my massive collection of Mp3s and WAV files, scanned Apple’s database for what it considered matches, then removed the original files from my internal hard drive. REMOVED them. Deleted. If Apple Music saw a file it didn’t recognize—which came up often, since I’m a freelance composer and have many music files that I created myself—it would then download it to Apple’s database, delete it from my hard drive, and serve it back to me when I wanted to listen, just like it would with my other music files it had deleted."
Many of today's Internet users choose to get their music from subscription services, rather than purchase MP3 downloads or CDs. Mr. Pinkstone described four problems he sees with the music service:
"1. If Apple serves me my music, that means that when I don’t have WiFi access, I can’t listen to it. When I say “my music,” I don’t just mean the music that, over twenty years (since before iTunes existed), I painstakingly imported from thousands of CDs and saved to my computer’s internal hard drive. I also mean original music that I recorded and saved to my computer...
2. What Apple considers a “match” often isn’t..."
Mr. Pinkstone listed several songs he claimed the service mis-matched, and concluded:
"... What this means, then, is that Apple is engineering a future in which rare, or varying, mixes and versions of songs won’t exist unless Apple decides they do. Said alternate versions will be replaced by the most mainstream version, despite their original, at-one-time correct, titles, labels, and file contents.
3. Although I could click the little cloud icon next to each song title and “get it back” from Apple, their servers aren’t fast enough to make it an easy task. It would take around thirty hours to get my music back. And even then...
4. Should I choose to reclaim my songs via download, the files I would get back would not necessarily be the same as my original files. As a freelance composer, I save WAV files of my own compositions rather than Mp3s. WAV files have about ten times the number of samples, so they just sound better. Since Apple Music does not support WAV files, as they stole my compositions and stored them in their servers, they also converted them to Mp3s or AACs. So not only do I need to keep paying Apple Music just to access my own files, but I have to hear an inferior version of each recording instead of the one I created."
Mr, Pinkstone's blog post is being discussed throughout the blogosphere. I spent some time reading Hard Forum. You might, too. One person (Westrock2000) shared on Hard Forum:
"I have been using iTunes for damn near 13 years now and I will admit that in the past it would occasionally delete random songs from the library, but only if you enabled "Allow iTunes to sort my library." So I did keep that turned off for many years, but I have not had that problem in the last several years."
Further down the page, Westrock2000 added:
"iTunes Match is meant to replicate the existence of your entire library on your iOS device. So being able to load playlists to the phone conflicts with that mentality. The other side effect to not being able to force a playlist is that you cannot put music videos on your iOS device outside of the ones that you buy from iTunes. The work around is to turn off Match, load a playlist, then turn it back on. Now I know what you are all going to say, "Oh you have to use a workaround to make an Apple work"..."
Another person (twonunpackmule) commented:
"This happened to me a couple of times. I found if I allowed Apple to "build my library" it would then cause syncing issues with my phone. If the music wasn't present during a sync, it would delete them. I have several backups because of it."
Another person (Miikun) shared:
"This happened to me 10 years ago, I loaded iTunes on my server and it decided to blackhole all my files instead of moving them to the new iTunes storage location. Considering that Apple applications don't exactly come with a manual, and are supposed to be idiot-proof, you really can't expect some innocuous checkbox like "Build My Library" equates with delete everything on the source folder. Even Windows OS will prompt you before deletion/overwrite and let you make the choice, Apple's approach stinks of corporate entitlement, as if anyone who owns CDs are beneath their notice..."
And, there was this interesting comment by Ididar (link added):
"It isn't just Apple. Software bugs in music software or anything that manages your files can be a real problem. On my current setup if I use Microsoft's Windows 10 built in music program it deletes a bunch of my music files. It leaves all the folders and album artwork alone and just deletes the MP3 files. Since I stopped using it I haven't had a single file go missing. Thankfully, all my music is on an NAS that gets backed up to a drive..."
Mr. Pinkstone's blog post also cited sections of the Apple Music agreement he found relevant. He believes that this language is the reason why there haven't been any lawsuits by dissatisfied users:
"... YOU EXPRESSLY AGREE THAT YOUR USE OF, OR INABILITY TO USE, THE APPLE MUSIC SERVICE IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK. THE APPLE MUSIC SERVICE AND ALL PRODUCTS AND SERVICES DELIVERED TO YOU THROUGH THE APPLE MUSIC SERVICE ARE (EXCEPT AS EXPRESSLY STATED BY APPLE) PROVIDED “AS IS” AND “AS AVAILABLE” FOR YOUR USE, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED... IN NO CASE SHALL APPLE, ITS DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, AFFILIATES, AGENTS, CONTRACTORS, OR LICENSORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, PUNITIVE, SPECIAL, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES ARISING FROM YOUR USE OF THE APPLE MUSIC SERVICE OR FOR ANY OTHER CLAIM RELATED IN ANY WAY TO YOUR USE OF THE APPLE MUSIC SERVICE, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ANY ERRORS OR OMISSIONS IN ANY CONTENT..."
Mr. Pinkstone recovered his original music from backups he had made of his laptop's hard drive. He concluded:
"... So my files were temporarily restored; but the only way to prevent this from happening over and over, according to Amber, was to cancel my subscription to Apple Music (which she herself doesn’t use due to the above-listed reasons) and to make sure my iCloud settings did not include storing any music backups."
Are Mr. Pinkstone's complaints valid? Macworld disagrees:
"How Apple's music services all work is a little confusing, but in no way is the company interested in getting rid of your music library... James Pinkstone, writing on his company’s blog, tells a tale of losing 122GB of music files because of Apple Music. Plenty of websites are trumpeting this story, saying that Apple Music is the big bad wolf. But I’m afraid that isn’t the case. The author of this blog post begins by citing a bit of a conversation he had with one Amber, an Apple tech support person... Amber is wrong. Neither Apple Music nor iCloud Music Library deletes music files. This simply doesn’t happen.
I’m not contesting what happened to Mr. Pinkstone. iTunes is nothing if not problematic, as you can see regularly in my Ask the iTunes Guy column. But if Apple Music—or more correctly, in this case, iCloud Music Library—were rapturing music files of every user around the world, there would have already been a -gate controversy (musicgate? filegate?) and a class-action lawsuit. Heck, even Taylor Swift would have been unhappy, and penned an open letter to Apple.
I don’t know exactly what happened to this user. I contacted him by email trying to get more information, and he told me that he no longer uses Apple Music, so he really can’t help elucidate the issue. There are a few hypotheses circulating about what may have happened, and none of them make total sense. Something deleted his music files—including music he composed—and it’s hard to figure out what was responsible. But it wasn’t Apple Music, and Apple certainly did not “steal” his music."
So, who is right: Mr. Pinkstone or Macworld? Regardless, it seems wise to understand the differences between Apple Music and iTunes Match; and how both work with iCloud Music Library. Apple clearly stated:
"Apple Music and iTunes Match are not backup services for your original music library. Be sure to back up your music library so that you have a copy of your music and other information if your Mac or PC is ever replaced, lost, or damaged... Your Apple Music membership includes an iCloud Music Library, which allows you to enjoy your entire music library from all of your devices... You can use Apple Music and iTunes Match together. When you subscribe to both services, your iCloud Music Library will make available 256 Kbps DRM-free AAC files only for songs matched using iTunes on your Mac or PC. Songs that can’t be matched are uploaded from iTunes to your iCloud Music Library and stored in iCloud in their uploaded form..."
Macworld also discussed the three services. Apple is known for providing intuitive, easy-to-use products and services. Consumers pay a price premium for that.
Until this gets sorted out (hopefully with a statement from Apple), Mr. Pinkstone's experience is a cautionary tale for consumers who mix subscription and downloaded (e.g., purchased) music files. The applies especially for artists who create their own proprietary music:
- Read the fine print for subscription music service before subscribing. Understand what content is stored, reformatted, copied, and/or deleted and the circumstances. Understand the service's syncing or matching policy and available controls; especially if syncing means merge/purge.
- Backup all of your devices (e.g., desktop, laptop, tablet, phone) to a media or destination you control. Do this whether your subscribe to a music subscription service or not. Two terabyte external hard drives are inexpensive.
- Music you create is your proprietary property. Protect it accordingly. Read contract terms before subscribing. If the terms aren't available before purchase, don't subscribe. If the terms put your property at risk, don't subscribe.
- Read reviews before subscribing. Learn from other consumers' experiences, good or bad. Ensure the review site includes customer-written content or trustworthy expert reviews.
- Assess whether the music service fits your lifestyle. The way the service stores, formats, matches, and syncs your music files may or may not meet your needs. If it does, great. If it doesn't, it may not benefit you. Only you can decide.
I prefer services that keep me in direct control of my files, and request my permission before making any changes. Services that think for me often include an implicit loss of control. Some people view that as convenience. I don't. This is the crux of item #5. You know best if you're a control freak. If the music subscription service keeps you in control, great. If not, then you may not want to subscribe.
I doubt that we have heard the end of this story. What are your opinions? If you have experienced a situation similar to Mr. Pinkstone's, please share it below.