itunes.pngWhen they said that this would be impractical, they weren’t kidding. Thanks to Dr. Davis for pointing out that transfering an iTunes song is probably legal. Also, thanks to everyone who had something nice to say about me. I read every comment on this site, but because I was worried about possible legal ramifications I hesitated to respond. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my earlier attempt to rid me of this song.
The short version is that you need to give someone your account. I’ve disassociated my credit card info with my account by using a prepaid credit card, changed the email address and password, and emailed the Apple ID, password and file to Keith Elder, the buyer and deauthorized my computer.

The Long Version

I started by trying to get Apple to help me out. I wasn’t expecting much, so I didn’t press the issue too far. I called AppleCare and waited 8 minutes, just like the recording said. Neil answers and says that he can answer iTMS questions. My lucky day!
We try to get the iTunes serial number, and discover there isn’t one. I give him my OS X serial number and he calls me by name, which creeps me out slightly less than when Pizza Hut asked if I’d like to order another pepperoni, onion and pepper pizza. I know you have scary demographic info in your CRM database, you don’t need to rub my nose in it.
Our paraphrased conversation:
Me: “I bought a song with one account and want to give it to a friend”
Him: “No, you can’t do that. Can you give him the mp3?”
Me: “Actually it’s an AAC and it won’t play on his system”
Him: “There’s no way you can transfer a song from one account to another.”
Jean Luc: “Sounds like a design flaw” (I have Star Trek playing on the TiVo in the background. He seriously said that just after Neil said I couldn’t do the transfer.)
So my next method of transfer involves giving Keith my account. The first step is to change the email address to something at and the password to something other than mine. Having your own domainname makes this fairly easy, although it’s not exactly hard to come up with a free email address these days.
I then try to delete my credit card number. This proves tricky, because you can’t delete your credit card number, you can only replace it with a valid and active number. I try the standby Visa number 4111 1111 1111 1111 (it works with the Luhn formula but it’s not a real card) and Apple won’t take that for an answer.
At this point I figure the only way to give Keith my account without giving him my card is to call my credit card company and have them change the number. I call them up, but get cold feet before I reach a live human being.
I start googling for something that I heard about a few years ago, prepaid credit cards at 7-11. Emboldened by the success, I start to find prepaid credit cards are still around, even available locally. I guess the credit part of the term credit card, the company refers to them as “Prepaid MasterCard Cards.”
I run to CVS and buy my first prepaid MasterCard, paying for it with my real credit card. The price of pseudo-anonymity is steep though, $9.95 for the card with a minimum initial balance for $20, turning my $1.05 iTunes investment into a pricey $31 expenditure. I should be able to get the $20 back out of the card assuming Keith doesn’t buy 20 iTunes the moment he gets my email. [Update 2003-09-10 8:23 AM – I was able to spend $19 of the $20 on a gift to the EFF, not sure what happened to that other $1]
In order to use the card right away I need to put a bunch of information into their website. Name, address, phone number. I give them a fake last name and the street address 123 Fake St. (from the Simpsons). For my phone number I give them 212-479-7990. They then tell me to call up a toll free number to get my activated card number.
I call, and they have me verify all my information. I’m not sure if you realize this, but Fake St. is pronounced “Fah-kee.” It’s a good thing I put some thought into my fake information, otherwise they would have tripped me up. The company did want to know my social security number – you know, the thing that is legally never supposed to be used for identification. I’m pretty sure they don’t verify the information anyway.
They say that my card will be delivered in 10 business days, though I highly doubt that.
They also say that I will have to wait an hour before I can use it for online purchases, due to some system maintenance. After hanging up the phone I immediately go into iTunes and get told my card is invalid. So I wait an hour (more or less) and try putting it into iTunes again, resulting in the same message. I feel a vague sense of $29.95 being wasted, but give it another 10 minutes (to finish up Law & Order on the TiVo). I try again and success!
So now I have an account that doesn’t put my credit card at risk, not that I don’t trust Keith or anything.
I’ve deauthorized my computer, sent Keith the information and file. He can play the Double Dutch Bus as well as the other songs that he purchased from the iTunes Music Store. His computer is now authorized on his old account and the new account that he received from me.

Closing Thought

How might this be useful? After all, the song only cost 99 cents. One example I saw listed was if someone had spent an enormous amount of money on iTunes, and needed to recoup some of that expense. Another example is if someone inherited a collection. While the process was impractical, I can certainly see someone doing it for a collection of several thousand songs. If digital distribution is the future of music it needs to start acting like it.
I think that the iTunes Music Store is the best legal download service so far. Judging from the comments I’ve seen, most people want to own their music, just like Jobs said. Apartment dwellers know that they won’t get any money out of their monthly payments, it’s important for iTunes users to know where they stand.
The irony here is that the main advantage of the iTunes Music Store is that you can pick and choose the exact songs that you want, while the used market would consist entirely entire collections. Imagine a used CD store where you had to sell your entire collection just to rid yourself of that MC Hammer CD that seemed like such a good idea at the time. You can’t sell your song but you can sell your account.
I’m amazed that so many people were interested in this issue, and I hope that people “buying” iTunes Music now know where they stand. If you don’t like the way Apple is doing things, let them know.


30 responses to “Impractical”

  1. Two thoughts: First, if you were only able to spend nineteen of the twenty dollars, is it possible that Apple nicked you for a dollar, meaning that Keith actually inadvertantly ended up paying for the song after all? Is there any way to verify this?
    Second, is it possible for iTunes to carry more than one Apple account? That is, if Keith had already purchased a few songs on his own, with one Apple ID, and then you gave him your Apple ID, can he use both at the same time? If he had more than one Mac he probably could, simply by storing each Apple ID on a differetn computer and making the other one of the three allowed sharers, but would it work with just one Mac?

  2. Phillip – It is possible to authorize iTunes with multiple Apple IDs, so he can play his old songs as well as his new one. In fact, it would be possible to establish multiple Apple IDs – one for each purchase – so you can sell just the account (and song) that you want.
    I doubt that Keith purchased a song with that account, but I will double check the account. If that’s the case then the song wouldn’t have transfered, but I suspect the problem is with emptying the value of the card. I’ll post a comment when I find out.

  3. Firstly, instead of purchasing a pre-paid Mastercard, you could have used a feature that many banks have nowadays. MBNA calls it ShopSafe, Discover, AmEx and Citibank have it too. You can log in to your online banking account, request a one-time credit card number, giving them an expiration date and a maximum of total charges.
    Also, as a software engineer, I can imagine a system that would do everything what you did automatically. Setting up an account with iTunes, making a purchase and then either allowing you to use it or handing over the account to someone else can be all programmed into a cute desktop application. Let’s call it AppleZaa. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I haven’t used iTunes, but if you are able to burn CDs, could you copy the CDs and recreate the mp3s and send it across?

  5. Hey glad you found a solution. I agree if were going to buy music like this. We should beable to trade and or sell it. Maybe each of these songs should have something where you can edit the owner info of the song.
    BTW I have used itunes and I personally think rhapsody ( is better. Although a bit more expensive.

  6. Anonymous – That sounds similar to Cringely’s somewhat complicated Snapster system. It would be fun to set up a P2P system that send an AAC file to someone else, authorize them, let them play the song, and deauthorize them. Perhaps even renting out your collection for $0.01/play, meaning you could quickly turn a profit on your purchased music collection.
    In that scenario, your profit/loss would be linked to the number of purchased songs in circulation and the demand for songs. A sort of speculation market would spring up where people would buy songs that few other people bought but they expected to be popular.
    Unfortunately Apple would put the kibosh on it pretty quickly through technical and legal means.

  7. Najeeb – There are two problems I see with your idea. Let me say IANAL and I haven’t spoken to any lawyers, so much of my legal knowledge comes from Slashdot. That means you should talk to a lawyer before doing anything because I don’t know shit.
    The first problem is that in your situation, the seller wouldn’t be selling the original AAC file or their account, but rather a “derivative work,” which you aren’t allowed to resell. I think. Someone correct me if I’m mistaken, preferably as insultingly as possible ๐Ÿ™‚
    The second problem is that the AAC encoding process is “lossy” and the MP3 encoding process is “lossy.” This means that you lose some of the information in each encoding process and you wind up with something that sounds worse than either format. It will most likely sound flat and tinny, and who wants to buy that?

  8. So what are the legal implications of providing innaccurate/fraudulent information to the disposable credit card company? It seems like that might be illegal, or at the very least, a contractual violation. If so, that would diminish the validity of this technique somewhat, no?

  9. Wow, George…Keith can now play “Double Dutch Bus” from the Master of Disguise soundtrack…This must be what that Constitution thing was written for. You’re a real cyber-superhero, George. Keep up the good work.

  10. I didn’t mean to imply that Keith bought a song with your account. I just wondered why the $1 discrepancy and thought it would be truly amusing (in a sick way) if this had ended up costing Keith/you $1 after all. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    In fact, on further reflection and after parsing through in my head how this worked, I suspected that the $1 is a open-to-buy authorization charge against your card to validate it, and that held amount should release after 7-10 days, tops.
    In other words, the money is there, but Apple has signaled (to validate the card) that they might want it, so it’s being held until they say yes or the time runs out.

  11. Josh – I don’t see why that’s so stupid. It’s a valid thing to consider. People can trade CD’s being the first purchaser and they can sell them too. Why can’t I sell my digital license? I think it sounds in the beginning like a good idea – but I also think it gives companies a LOT of control on your digital media. What if Apple goes bankrupt? Who’s going to run the server so I can play my music? What if I buy $10,000 of music and want to sell my old stuff. I have hundreds of CD’s I’ve collected since the early 90’s… should I not have the same thing eventually with digital media?
    I think there are actually some really serious questions that nobody in Americorp Worldwide Domination are able or willing to answer. I don’t think the Retarded Ineffective Audio Association are interested in solving them either – they’re all about greed and profiteering.

  12. I wanted to comment and congratulate you on bringing up an issue that I’m sure the RIAA is going to start screaming about at any time now. I’m sure they don’t appreciate losing the money on the potential sale that you did in place of them. Anyway … your experiment brings up an issue that has bugged me for a while now about purchasing songs on the internet. What happens when I amass a large collection then all of the sudden my hard drive decides to take a dump. Currently no service out there allows you to go back and retrieve every file out there that you downloaded from them without repurchasing it again. That’s personally kept me from buying music online. Even if I do have a full backup of my collection windows media player stores the license information internally so if you rebuild your system or have to replace your drive you lose the access to your collection anyway since the player can’t verify the license. I think the RIAA has jumped the gun with their whole music sharing file swapping we want to make money thing without providing us as “legal” users a means to protect our collections. I’m sticking to CD’s and DVD-Audio for now.

  13. Selling in the Digital Age

    Found at: Selling iTunes After all the hypeand press that some guy got for trying to sell a music file he purchased from iTunes, and ebay cancelling his auction because they claimed it broke one of their terms and…

  14. Jay: Most companies state that if you purchase something as a download, YOU are responsible for backing up the original downloaded file. (Apple’s iTunes Music Store, for example.) Some (Symantec) offer a ‘redownload’ service for an additional fee. Symantec will sell you any of their software as a download (for the same price as a box in a store, I might add,) then have the nerve to charge you an extra $16 for the right to redownload it. So, say, 4 months down the road, you catch a virus that wipes out your hard drive completely (you did BUY Norton AntiVirus online, you just forgot to run the updates.) Without their redownload service, you’re screwed. But because you paid them an extra $16, they will let you redownload Norton AntiVirus. (Good thing you printed out that confirmation email with your username and password, right?)
    I currently have four copies of my iTunes Music Store ‘purchased music’ library. One in iTunes, one using Apple’s ‘Backup’ on my .Mac folder, one using Backup on a CD-R, and one burned to an Audio CD. (I actually have up to 8 copies of a given song, depending on how long ago I bought it; and therefore how many CD backups it’s been included in.)

  15. So I’m not sure why exactly you’ve wasted your time doing this? So you’re able to tranfer you account to another user… If I’m not mistaken, the whole purpose of the Apple iTunes Store, is so you can download the music you want. Key words “you want.” By doing so, you get virus free and non-corupt music files that you pick out. Thus knowingly purchasing songs based on your own music preferences.
    You don’t run to the store, buy a pack of chewing gum, chew half; then turn around and sell the remaining pieces because your tired of chewing the gum.
    I think we’re sending the RRIA the wrong message. It’s not hard to figure out how to work around the system. People have been doing this for years. We’ve all done it. The message we really should send, is that we’re tired of the music industry’s crap. Why should I pay $25 for a new cd with maybe only three good songs on it? Until the artists make better music, people will continue to surf p2p networks for there music.

  16. Hello Mr. Hotelling,
    Glad you were able to sell your song, (Sniker)
    Actually, I am glad you learned something from this. But my suggestion is this. I haven’t tried this myself, but what if you emailed your AAC song to someone who bought it from you. And you would of course delete if from your collection. Yes, its the honor system, but I guess you are an honest person.
    When the recipient of the song gets it, he can add to his collection on iTunes, he won’t be able to play it on his computer, but he should still be able to import it into his/her iPod. Of course we are assuming this person has an iPod. Then this person should be able to play it.
    Not a complete solution but still it might be good enough for some people.

  17. I.P. – There is little to no need for the honor system when transferring AAC files. AAC files can only be played on computers that are authorized by the account that purchased them. I needed to sell my account to the buyer in order for him to play it on his computer.
    While I could have left my computer authorized to play the song, their support document claims that users can have Apple manually deauthorize computers that they don’t have access to.
    As for the iPod, an iPod is linked to a specific installation of iTunes. If I load up my iPod at home it will have all the songs on my home computer. If I then bring it to work and plug it into my computer there it will ask if I want to associate the iPod with my work computer, which would delete all the songs currently on the iPod.
    So I suppose you could buy an iPod just to listen to the songs that I purchased (and that seems completely within their DRM’s rules) but that scores even higher on the impracticality scale than what I did.

  18. JBosworth – I wasted my time doing this not to send Apple or the RIAA a message, but to send one to consumers. That message is that you should know the terms of your “purchase” and if you think you’ll want to get money out of your collection someday you might want to look into another way to get your music. I think that the success of iTunes Music Store sends a much clearer message to the RIAA about individual song purchase than I ever could.
    You sound like a person who never makes bad purchases, which is pretty impressive. As for me, I’ve bought quite a few questionable CDs in my time, and I was glad to be able to sell them to the used CD store once I realized that Vanilla Ice wasn’t Moses leading us to a musical promised land.
    The buyer’s remorse and I are well acquainted. Unfortunately people’s tastes in music change over time. Fortunately, people’s tastes differ and so there’s usually someone to sell your unwanted music to, unless it’s something so awful that no one would want it (see Vanilla Ice).
    Chewing gum isn’t a very good analogy because it depreciates quickly with use (I remember in elementary school we constantly offered each other ABC Gum – Already Been Chewed). A better analogy would be a CD; judging from the number of used CD stores I don’t think I need to support my argument.

  19. digital transfer

    George Hotelling, who, as mentioned earlier, was trying to sell a track he purchased via the iTunes Music store, posted an update about what happened with the sale, and how he finally ended up transferring the song to the new…

  20. The reason I’m interested in all this is that–well, for instance, the new Seal album is out. I’d love to buy it right now off of iTunes, but I also might very well want to buy the actual CD later. If I do that, I’ve wasted $9.99. I would like at least some of that back, and I can rip my own off the CD I bought, so the iTunes files are useless. Perhaps Apple could set up a buyback system at half price?
    By the way, thank me–I think I’m the one that gave Jobs the idea for this whole iTunes Store thing in the first place.

  21. digital transfer

    George Hotelling, who, as mentioned earlier, was trying to sell a track he purchased via the iTunes Music store, posted an update about what happened with the sale, and how he finally ended up transferring the song to the new…

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