While iTunes' main purpose is to let people buy music online and play songs stored on their PC, the software also includes a feature that allows customers to listen to songs stored on another PC on their local network. Apple's software makes no permanent copy of the song, but the new MyTunes software captures that "stream" of music, making a copy that can be burned to a CD, uploaded to the Net or streamed to another PC.
"iTunes does not allow you to save this music to your hard drive," MyTunes' creator, Bill Zeller, said on his Web site. "MyTunes lifts this restriction by allowing you to save music from other computers to your hard drive."
While stream recording is not new--a myriad programs exist for recording Web radio and other streaming Net services for Windows and Macintosh computers--the ease with which the MyTunes software fits into iTunes pushes the experience to a new, and perhaps legally risky, level.
Running the program makes creating your own MP3 songs from someone else's collection as easy or easier than grabbing MP3s via traditional file-swapping software like Kazaa. That could complicate things for Apple, which depends on the music industry's support--and indeed, has won unprecedented kudos from labels and artists--for its iTunes music store.
The iTunes stream-sharing feature has already been widely adopted inside companies and on college campuses, where computer users can sample co-workers' or fellow students' music collections, as long as they're both using iTunes and their computers are on the same network.
As set up in iTunes, this is more akin to on-demand Webcasting than true file-sharing--but even are in theory required to pay a royalty to record companies and artists for streaming songs online.
With the advent of MyTunes, the large iTunes collections become more like a collectively distributed database of songs from which anybody can download--something that looks a lot like Kazaa, although without the search features.
Only unencrypted MP3 files are easily captured and copied using the MyTunes software, however. Songs purchased from Apple's iTunes store, which are protected by the company's proprietary digital rights management technology, do not work with Zeller's software.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) declined to comment on the iTunes or MyTunes features. Previously, the RIAA has targeted corporations in which large MP3 libraries were available to employees through an internal computer network, . The group has also sent letters to businesses and colleges warning about the potential legal dangers of letting employees or students use file-swapping services to exchange copyrighted works.
The ability to stream music stored on another computer has been part of iTunes for the Mac for some time. Apple scaled back the feature after some people started sharing songs over the Internet.
For his part, Zeller said on his Web site that he expects that MyTunes users will not do anything illegal with the software.
"And remember, copyright infringement is illegal," he says at the bottom of the page. "If you have any question whether what you're doing constitutes an infringement, visit the RIAA's great antipiracy Web site."