Back Up Your iTunes Music

I recently wrote about the unreliability of all of the Apple computers I’ve ever bought. Last night, my iMac failed to start up, displaying a big white screen and what I came to understood as the ‘Forbidden’ icon. It made me miss the venerable Macintosh bomb icon.

This brings the number of Apple computers that have fatally failed within two years of my owning them to four. Here’s what my sad computer looked like:

Well, that can't be good...

Despite my distaste for the Uber-branded Orwellian weirdness that is the Apple Store, I took my iMac in. They decided that it was merely a ‘system problem’, not a hardware issue. So, we backed up my computer to a newly-purchased hard drive and they wiped the thing clean.

As I write this blog post, my CD drive is spinning and installing the dreck that is Microsoft Office for Mac 2004.

I suspected that my hard drive had died. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, as I do most of my work on the web and, besides, I had backed up about six weeks ago.

A License to Download, Once

However, I had bought about $20 worth of iTunes music recently. Most people know this, but I think it bears repeating: you can only download an iTunes song once. When you buy it, you’re buying, what? A license to play the song, and the right to download the thing once.

It would have been ironic in my case, as my Apple hardware failure would have vapourized a bunch of my Apple digital assets.

This policy, by the way, is farcical. Every other digital content vendor that I’ve used–Audible, for example, or PC games from Steam–enables me to download my purchases over and over again. This feature is particularly handy when my Apple computer stops working.

Truth be told, if my hard drive had failed, and I’d lost that music, my first tactic would have been to try to download it illegally. After all, I’d paid Apple, the artists and all the stakeholders once, why should I pay them again?


  1. Agreed, Apple’s policies suck in all manner of ways.

    Latest backup was 6 *weeks* old! Why aren’t you using Time Machine?

    TM has come to my rescue more than once, given the propensity of Apple hardware to die on you I would have thought you’d have bought into using it.

    At worst you’d be a few *hours* out of sync (but yes, the restore would still be slow and tedious).

    1. We’re now on Time Machine, but (if I recall correctly) it was because, until recently, some of our versions of OS X didn’t offer it (they were too old).

  2. 5 mins on google tells me that if you contact Apple and explain what has happened they will let you re-download your purchases.

    1. My 30 seconds on Google found me this page, on Apple’s site, which reads:

      “When you buy a song, video, iPod Game, or album from the iTunes Store, you are entitled to download it only once.”

      Did you find something more definitive?

  3. Recently a friend of mine had his hard drive go south on him, and Apple allowed him to redownload all his iTunes purchases (thousands of dollars and gigs worth of music and video).

    You just have to contact iTunes Store support and generally they’ll flip a switch that allows you to re-download all your purchases.

  4. Here’s what you’re looking for, at Macworld.

    Notably, Apple only let’s you do this once. Kind of their way of saying, “Get your backup plan in order!”.

    1. Thanks for that–I hope that’s still fact. Given Apple’s well-earned reputation for inflexibility, I’d still put more stock in the page on their site than a MacWorld piece from 2007.

  5. I like my Apple computers more than I liked my PCs, but I’m not one of those fanatics. Most of my Macs have had significant hardware issues, and I’ve wasted many many hours in the Apple store trying to get this stuff fixed. My laptop has been serviced three times now, and my iPhone has been replaced as well. I think Apple’s hit the point where they are putting more and more emphasis on meaning Wall Street’s expectations each quarter than they are on keeping customers happy.

  6. I think their hardware is still prettier than almost anyone else’s, but it is no longer better built. (And I noted in Darren’s earlier post, it’s made in the same factories now anyway.)

    Making proper backups is still annoying, but everyone who doesn’t will get bitten eventually. I have, several times. My current scheme isn’t perfect, but as a nerd, when something breaks and I need it, I’ll still have to blame myself for what I lose.

    Time Machine is an improvement, but I think a lot of non-geek regular people are still on thin ice with their data, and it’s something tech companies should be working harder on making a no-brainer. (The iPhone and iPad are pretty good — one advantage of being tethered to a computer for sync and stuff is that backups Just Happen.)

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