Robertson’s contention seems to be that once you buy your music, you own it no matter what format its in. The music companies clearly don’t see things that way, as evidenced by their successful shutdown of My.MP3.com and claims that MP3tunes.com’s digital locker features are too piracy-friendly.
So that’s where the whole idea of the monthly subscription fee comes into play with whatever Apple’s supposed to be rolling out.
From the sounds of it, you’ll be able to cross-reference your music against Apple’s servers, but you’ll have to pay a monthly fee to use the service. In that respect, it becomes similar to unlimited music offerings from Rhapsody, Napster and Microsoft’s Zune.
And that’ll be how and why Apple can swap out higher-quality tracks than the ones you have on your computer and—more importantly—why you won’t hear the music labels screaming about how Apple’s locker is piracy-friendly. Your monthly subscription fee will essentially be paying for any of those tracks you pirated in the past.
But you probably shouldn’t expect to be able to use iCloud if you stop paying for your subscription, nor should you expect to be able to play tracks back on any devices you own. If Apple somehow manages to offer access to the service for free—including access to songs you never paid for in the first place—it’ll be a pretty significant development for the industry as a whole.
However, you should expect Apple to make the service attractive enough from an interface and usability standpoint that plenty of people won’t mind shelling out for a subscription. Even the simple way that tracks get added to your locker—no uploads—ought to be enough to win people over; not to mention that a subscription service would likely (hopefully) entail unlimited music downloads for one flat rate on top of those digital locker features.