yes virginia, apple ids do suck

Kirk McElhearn wrote a week or so back about the sorry state of Apple IDs – those things we have to use to transact any business in the Apple eco-system. He’s right.

Example: I have a few dozen albums purchased through iTunes over the years. Most of them were bought before 2009, using an old ID, and they were all in the old “protected” AAC format.

The other day I decided to subscribe to iTunes Match. I figured it was an easy way to get a lot of my music online. As part of it, I decided to retrieve the albums from the old account, since Match would let me upgrade the old purchases to higher quality audio without the annoying “protection.”

Now, Apple won’t let you merge IDs or transfer music from one ID to the other. However, I had saved physical copies of about half the albums I had from the old ID, and after loading them onto my computer I was able to add the albums to my current iTunes library. The only thing I had to do was type in my old ID and password to authorize my current computer. Then I simply updated Match in iTunes, confirmed that the old albums were matched, deleted the old, low resolution copies and replaced them with higher quality copies. So far, so good.

But it all went pear shaped when I tried to get the remainder of the albums stored under my old ID, the ones I didn’t have physical copies of.  For reasons that aren’t quite clear to me, if I log into iTunes on a computer associated with my current ID and then switch to my old ID and attempt to download the music associated with the old ID, Apple requires that the computer only download music associated with that old ID for 90 days. In other words, I apparently can’t go back to my current ID and download most of the music associated with the current ID.

How does Apple enforce it? On the computer I used to download the remainder of my “old” music, I logged out of my “old” iTunes account after downloading, and logged back in using my current account. I then added the “old” albums to my current account…and on this particular computer, my current cloud-based iTunes library was wiped out. 

That’s right: in order to make sure I can’t download any of the (legally purchased by me) music stored in the cloud for the next 90 days onto this laptop, I can’t see that music on this laptop. I’m left with a couple of recent albums I had physical copies of on the hard drives and the handful of old albums I had downloaded.

Ok, well, that sucks, but at least the machine in question is not the one I use for most of my streaming/listening. I figured I could just copy over the “old” files to the computer I do use for most of my iTunes business, a 2010 Macbook, and I’d be good to go, just like I did with the files I had physical copies of, from the old account.

Except that while I can add them to my iTunes library, they won’t match, even though I know the albums in question exist in iTunes. Obviously, I’m seeing some variation on the “90 days” theme. My guess is that long about early December, the files will match and upgrade just fine.

Look, this isn’t life-threatening stuff. I’m talking about a few albums, and given how much music I own, I’ll manage. I’m assuming Apple has put these restrictions in place to prevent the wholesale copying of iTunes libraries you don’t own. However, I do own the music in question, all of it legally bought and paid for, and it’s frustrating to compare the hassle of getting this sorted with, say, grabbing a shiny silver disc, dropping it into a player and enjoying.  The problem would be a non-issue if there were some way to combine, link or add to an Apple ID, and McElhearn notes that Apple has promised to deal with the issue. But it hasn’t, and one suspects it’s not exactly a high priority.

(Update – It gets worse. Last night, my main iTunes machine required that I log out of my iTunes account and sign in again. When I did, it had synch’ed to the machine that can’t see most of my cloud-based library. So now I’m largely locked out of my library.)

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