Apple Backtracks on iTunes Music Sharing

Amid pressure from its music industry partners, Apple has disabled a controversial feature in iTunes 4 that enables the program to share songs with other iTunes users over the Internet.

Apple removed the ability in a small update to iTunes, which also corrects a volume limiter bug and touts improved performance. Version 4.0.1 can, however, still share music between users on the same local network via Rendezvous.

Controversy swirled around the sharing functionality after users began to bypass limitations built into iTunes. Although iTunes itself does not allow copying of music shared by others, developers quickly analyzed the protocol and released programs that could download music directly from iTunes music shares.

While many applications sport the ability to share files and the techniques employed by iTunes simply utilize HTTP, the ease in which users could distribute music sparked a media frenzy and comparisons to the launch of Napster.

After Web sites cropped up containing vast listings of iTunes shares accessible over the Internet, Apple opted to keep the legal hounds leashed, simply stating iTunes "is not meant to be used in any other way than for personal use."

Such file sharing may not have been a major concern for Apple in the past, but the launch of the iTunes Music Store has placed the company in a delicate position with its major record label partners that supply music for the service. Songs purchased from Apple's iTunes Music Store can only be read on authorized computers, however, and were not at risk for being shared.

In order to encourage users to upgrade to the new iTunes release, Apple has tweaked its file sharing protocol to prevent version 4.0 from communicating with 4.0.1.

But the iTunes 4.0.1 update is not likely to quell the efforts of curious minds wanting to take advantage of Apple's easy to use protocol. Developers have already begun to create workarounds for the new restrictions, such as fooling iTunes into thinking Internet traffic is originating from a local network.

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