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Is iTunes Plus gone? iTunes 11 offers DRM-free audio re-downloads

The curious case of the DRM in the night How iTunes 11 offers cloud redownloads

I am not now, nor have I ever been an iTunes Match customer. But last night, I was able to download DRM-free copies of music I purchased from iTunes in the days before iTunes Plus via iTunes 11. I also determined that some of my iTunes content that I thought was securely tucked away on my hard drive had in fact made a retreat into the cloud.

Update: A search of my iTunes library shows the following trick worked for 290 of my m4p tracks, about half or maybe a bit more.

How iTunes 11 handles cloud re-downloads

Last night, I was updating several applications and, to pass the time, I decided to watch one of my iTunes purchased movies. Only one problem: they had apparently disappeared from my computer. Everything except my self-recorded "Mockingbird Lane" (fabulous pilot!) had disappeared. This made me cranky.

The curious case of the DRM in the night How iTunes 11 offers cloud redownloads

A quick scan of my Time Machine backups revealed that the last time those files were on my system was in July 2012. My 2012-07-17-011958 backup had all my movies. My 2012-07-24-001934 did not.

Curious.

So I stopped my app updates (there were dozens, including a rather obnoxious 1.3 GB TomTom update), quit and restarted iTunes.

I discovered that although my movie files were gone, their iTunes listings had reappeared. Stopping the app updates allowed iTunes enough breathing space to call back home and provide a list of streamable, downloadable items such as this one:

The curious case of the DRM in the night How iTunes 11 offers cloud redownloads

The reason I hadn't seen this was that iTunes couldn't get enough bandwidth to grab the listings while I was doing my massive download updates. See the cloud-download icon? My movies were now in the cloud.

So my purchases were still there, just off my computer. Honestly, I'm not happy about this -- I don't like data disappearing without my consent. (Imagine if I had discovered this while on an airplane.) But the bigger revelation was yet to come.

The case of the disappearing iTunes Plus

Listed in my Songs section were a badjillion purchased items (mostly free songs of the week) that I had long since deleted from my computer. Much like the old 256 kbps purchases which you could re-download, I was being offered to opportunity to re-download my ancient m4p items.

So I tried it and sure enough, it worked. More interestingly, the copy that downloaded was an m4a file, not an m4p file. Specifically, it was no longer DRM encrypted.

I decided to manually delete some of my m4p files from iTunes (not from my computer) and see if the trick worked for them too. It did.

My Little Mermaid album folder now contained two files for each track. The new downloads all were unprotected files. I did not purchase iTunes Plus for these items, I am not a member of iTunes Match and I did not do anything special.

The curious case of the DRM in the night How iTunes 11 offers cloud redownloads

This did not, however, work universally. Apparently iTunes doesn't like Swedes Norwegians. (Update: A little more than half of my m4p tracks converted successfully, 290 tracks in total.)

The curious case of the DRM in the night How iTunes 11 offers cloud redownloads

This is the first I have heard about re-downloads being available as a courtesy for non-256K tracks, although I probably missed the news about it at some point.

Meanwhile last week, TUAW reader Christopher Chapin noticed that after iTunes 11 debuted, the link from the iTunes Store to iTunes Plus was gone. A subsequent check of an iTunes Plus support document showed that the direct link was dead. Is iTunes Plus finally dead? It's looking that way.

How to replace DRM tracks with DRM-free ones

A final tip: To find all the protected media in your iTunes library, you'll want to add the Kind label to your Songs listings. Right-click the columns header and enable Kind, then use that to sort your music. All your protected tracks will group together.

The curious case of the DRM in the night How iTunes 11 offers cloud redownloads

Sign into iTunes, delete the songs (but not the files), and hopefully download them again via iCloud. Good luck.

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