Apple launches iTunes Match in UK
Apple has launched its music streaming and "cloud" storage service iTunes Match in the UK, allowing the technology giant and music industry to generate revenue from years of illicit downloads.
The ambitious upgrade to Apple's iTunes Music Store was introduced in the US in November, but was made available to UK users yesterday.
The service replicates all music stored on a user's computer â" including illegally-downloaded material and tracks ripped from CDs â" with better-quality alternatives from its own "cloud" for Â£21.99 a year. The music service forms part of iTunes in the Cloud, Apple's internet-based locker that allows users to view photos, videos and other media across a number of devices.
The launch comes as internet rivals Apple, Google and Amazon battle it out with a new generation of services, such as music streaming sites Spotify and Deezer, for users' time and money online. Google and Amazon earlier this year launched similar versions of Apple's iTunes in the Cloud â" which launched in the UK in October without the ability to synchronise music â" after striking US-only deals with the four music majors.
The launch represents a significant marker for the music industry which has been plagued by years of illicit downloads and is traditionally wary about new digital services by technology companies. iTunes Match users are able to stream and store up to 25,000 tracks, including those ripped from CDs and not purchased from iTunes, with the new system.
Mark Mulligan, an independent music analyst, said the launch was a significant moment in the music industry's battle against online piracy.
"This wouldn't happen with any other company. Apple basically owns most of the music industry's most valuable digital customers," said Mulligan. "This is not so much the music industry saying 'we've lost the fight' against piracy but more pulling out the troops and saying 'let's make money from that which has already happened'.
"The world has changed. There is a recognition from record label executives that the fight against piracy can't be definitively won. Apple is saying to labels, 'we're going to give you revenue if you give us licences. The whole debate about iTunes Match amounting to an amnesty is a red herring. This is the world's most valuable digital music service investing in something that's actually incredibly valuable to the music industry."
A spokesman for PRS for Music, the UK trade body for songwriters and music publishers, said Apple had "done the right thing" by obtaining licences before launching the service.
Failure to reach royalty agreements with the major music groups â" Universal, EMI, Sony and Warner Music â" delayed the expansion of iTunes Match from the US.