iCloud Music Library and DRM: Now with Slightly Less Disaster

Yesterday I called iTunes 12.2 and iCloud Music Library a disaster for your music collection, and part of my reasoning for that was the way copy protection is applied to tracks through the service. It turns out the rules for when that DRM gets applied aren't quite as draconian as I originally thought. But you know what? They're still pretty confusing for most people, and iCloud Music Library is still screwing up music collections when it shouldn't.

Turns out iCloud Music Library's DRM is confusing, not draconianTurns out iCloud Music Library's DRM is confusing, not draconian

iCloud Music Library is Apple's online music storage and streaming service included with Apple Music. It'a like iTunes Match, but not exactly the same. iTunes Match pulls songs from the iTunes Store when it can instead of uploading from your library, while iCloud Music Library is pulling those same songs from the Apple Music database. iTunes Match isn't serving up DRM-protected songs, but iCloud Music Library is.

Yesterday I said all the music you upload to iCloud Music Library gets wrapped with DRM, meaning you can't make new copies, listen on devices that aren't authorized with your Apple ID, or even listen yourself should you cancel your Apple Music subscription. My assessment yesterday was partially right, which in this game is pretty much the same as being wrong.

Here's when DRM is getting applied to music you upload to iCloud Music Library, at least as we understand it now: The songs you upload from your library that are available through Apple Music will get replaced with Apple's version, and that does include DRM. Try to download and play those song versions on devices that aren't authorized with your iTunes account and you'll get hit with a disappointing dialog saying you can't listen to those tracks.

Serenity Caldwell at iMore did a great job of breaking down how Apple Music's DRM rules apply to tracks you upload to iCloud Music Library. The short version: don't delete music from your computer after uploading it to iCloud Music Library because anything there that does include DRM will all so have it should you download it later.

All the songs I saw people test coincidentally were also available through Apple Music. That's a testament to just how extensive the Apple Music library is, but it also helps explain where some of the confusion surrounding the service's DRM is coming from.

And that's where the real problem with iCloud Music Library's copy protection comes in: If those of us who spend every day with Apple's products and services can get confused, what hope does the average user have? Many iTunes users don't differentiate between the music they've uploaded and the music they're playing from their hard drive. This is one place where Apple needs to make it much clearer just exactly what it's doing with copy protection and where it's being used.

Apple also needs to sort out the other issues giving iCloud Music Library users fits, like jumbled song and album metadata, and duplicate songs randomly appearing in iTunes libraries. And as long as I'm asking, how about a better interface for iTunes, too?

Not everyone is having issues with iCloud Music Library, and the DRM policy isn't an issue for everyone, either. Still, the problems are widespread enough that I won't be switching over from iTunes Match just yet, and I'm watching closely for Apple's detailed iCloud Music Library DRM explanation. 

The bottom line is that I still think iCloud Music Library is a disaster for your iTunes music collection, just not quite as big a disaster as I thought yesterday. So that's a start.