Apple iTunes and the home insurance blame game

We love music. We play it on our Macs, PCs, iPhones, iPads and iPods. iTunes sold its 10 billionth song in February 2010. What's wrong? You should check your digital music is insured, as many insurers don't offer coverage for your digital music collections within their standard policy -- and Apple won't help you get your music back if it gets lost or stolen -- even though it could.

Take the UK as an example. UK consumer watchdog, Which? has investigated insurance firms to find that one-third of insurer's standard policies fail to cover any digital information. Yet this myopia flies against cultural trends.

Digital music's booming

MoneySupermarket.com estimates that most UK music fans have around £1,200 ($1,900) value of paid for music and movies on their Mac or PC. Many have more. UK music fans are downloading over ten million tracks each month, says Sainsbury's Finance. Brits have grabbed $1.3 billion in legal downloads so far.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

Julie Owens, head of home insurance at moneysupermarket.com, has said, "Whether its Beyonce or The Beatles, people don't associate the same value to an MP3 player full of music as they do to a wall full of CDs or vinyl, but it is just as -- if not more -- valuable in terms of money, so people need to ensure they are appropriately insured."

It gets worse: while many legitimate music download sites (HMV Digital, Play.com and 7digital, for example) will let you re-download music in the event of accidental or criminal loss of your data, Apple's iTunes service does not.

The service's terms and conditions state, "Products may be downloaded only once and cannot be replaced if lost for any reason". Anecdotally, Apple has been known to replace people's music in events like these, but this is on an ad hoc basis and cannot be relied upon.

What does this mean?

Honest music lovers who purchase tracks legitimately via iTunes are being punished by Apple, insurers and the music industry.

-- If they purchase a similarly-priced CD, then the music they acquire is insured under standard policies and they also enjoy the fair use right to rip the CD into their iTunes collection.

-- By requesting an extra premium for the convenience of the use of a particular music delivery mechanism, insurance firms are harming the evolution of the industry.

-- Music firms are harming consumers because they don't insist that all digital download services offer replacement of legally-acquired tracks in the event of their loss. Well, music firms want you to buy your music again.

-- Apple is hurting its users. Users who currently account for 70 percent of US music sales. It hurts then because in the event of technical or criminal loss of their songs, Apple won't replace the tracks -- even though many competitors will do this.

Which? CEO Peter Vicary Smith says in a release:"It's surprising that, at a time when the popularity of digital downloads is soaring, insurers aren't offering music lovers the protection they need.

"People who buy a lot of digital music should double check their home insurance policy to make sure downloads are covered. If they're not, we'd recommend switching to a provider that has entered the digital age."

For insurers this is a technical challenge: Why should they pay out in the event of loss if a claimant also has the music backed up elsewhere? Or in the event they can re-download all their music from the original retailer? These arguments have some merit. Surely the best possible way to cover ourselves is to insist online music retailers offer the right to download music again in the event of its loss? This at least is a realization of the convenience and promise of digital downloads.

While we wait for this -- and we may be waiting a while -- what can you do today to make sure your downloads are protected?

Check your policy.

Read through your cover note to see what is covered, then contact your insurer to discuss it. If you learn that your insurance does include such coverage, then why not tell other readers in comments below? *Though readers are urged to confirm any such unverified recommendation*.

Write to Apple

It seems there's every reason to contact Cupertino to ask it to offer free music replacement in the event of accidental or criminal loss of that music.

Keep your purchase invoices

Don't forget that if you lose your music it is likely you'll also lose your computer. If you lose your computer you will perhaps also lose your archived email. This means you also lose your iTunes purchase invoices. Why not save copies of these to your Dropbox account, email them to Gmail account or print them out?

Please, please backup

Don't neglect backup. If you manage to backup regularly you can also take a little pride in yourself: 92 percent of people don't backup their data daily and 70 percent don't backup monthly.

If the idea of burning everything to a huge pile of CDs or DVDs doesn't appeal to you, then think about how else you can develop an easy backup routine. When it comes to music don't forget that old iPod of yours should still be kept populated with your favorite purchases as iTunes can read the music back from it should disaster strike.

Most recommend a dual backup system, so in the event you lose your computer and your backups (in a fire, for example) you can still regain your lost data somehow.

  • Online backup

Crashplan offers free online backup for all platforms. Backblaze offer unlimited online backup for just $5/month per computer. There's Box.net, Dropbox and many more online services. These are improving constantly, with many offering access to your data using your iPad or iPhone. It is a terrible shame Apple's MobileMe service doesn't compete with these services -- it offers a tiny amount of storage for a fee while others offer unlimited storage for free.

  • Network backup

That old Mac or PC doesn't need to be abandoned. It could become part of your network backup system. Just install iTunes on both machines and set iTunes up on the elder machine to automatically pull in new music and media from your main collection as such new material is added, using the 'Sharing' feature. If you use a Mac, then Apple's Time Machine software could one day save your digital life. Apple's Time Capsule is a wireless router which can be configured for automatic backup using Time Machine, for example. There's many other options.

  • Local backup

External hard drives are becoming less expensive all the time. Amazon offers a good selection, but do shop around. Team these up with backup management software, such as Time Machine, Super Duper or Backup4all and you may never need to worry about your music collection again.

While it is of course wise to invest your time and energy on backup systems, it seems a shame that insurance firms and online music retailers can't help develop an easy media replacement scheme. Wouldn't it be a lot more elegant to know you can never lose your music no matter what happens?

What do you think? Have you been denied payment by an insurance firm? Or are you one of the lucky few who might have seen your music replaced by Apple? Or are you someone who once saw all their backup systems fail? Please share this together in comments below. I'd also be pleased if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.

NOTE: I see a descent to name-calling taking place in the comments below, with some saying Apple will let you re-download stolen tracks while others say "no". As referenced in the article above, there are anecdotal claims that this is correct, but Apple makes no commitment to such support. It has competitors who do make such a commitment.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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