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Apple is laying the groundwork for its long-awaited cloudy iTunes service, busily negotiating with music-industry decision-makers about allowing multiple downloads of their creative content, according to a report citing people with knowledge of the company's plans.

Bloomberg reports that Apple is in talks with Universal, Sony, Warner, and EMI about a modification in their current agreement that would allow users to repeatedly download tunes to their Cupertinian devices.

A multiple-download deal would improve Apple's current iTunes service in two main ways:

  • It would allow users to keep all of their music in the cloud, not on a local device, so that the content could be repeatedly downloaded and played by mutiple devices that could use the same iTunes account.
  • It would serve as a remote backup for content purchased through the iTunes service – although whether Apple would allow content purchased elsewhere (ripped from legal CDs, for example) to be stored in their cloud is anyone's guess.

It's likely, however, that the service would remain based on the purchase of individual tunes as is iTunes today, and not be similar to the all-you-can-eat subscription model used by services such as Pandora Radio's Pandora One, or Last.fm's get-more-features subscription upgrade.

Services such as those, however, will struggle to survive at all after June 30, when Apple begins to enforce its 30 per cent cut of any subscription-based revenue pulled in by content-delivering apps sold through the iOS App Store.

Bloomberg's sources said that an announcement of a multiple-download deal could come as early as mid-year – which coincides nicely with Apple' June 30 deadline. Or, as Bloomberg points out and The Reg agrees, Jobs & Co could wait until their traditional fall music event.

After all, September has been the go-to month in iPod/iTunes-announcement history during the past half-decade. Although the iPod was announced in October of 2001 and the iTunes Music Store went live in April of 2003, Apple has settled into a September groove since 2005, when the news was about improved searches in the iTunes Music Store.

New iPods and iTunes upgrades appeared in back-to-school Apple events during each of the following years: adding feature-film content in 2006, launching the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store in 2007, announcing the return of NBC Universal to the Store in 2008, unveiling the never-quite-caught-fire iTunes LP concept in 2009, and flogging the thunderous yawn that was the Ping social-networking attempt in 2010.

When iTunes enters the cloud – as it is increasingly certain to do – it'll be interesting to see whether Apple stays with its September cadence or jumps the gun into summer-means-fun. Perhaps the deciding factors will be how efficiently the company's money men can close those deals with Universal, Sony, Warner, and EMI, and how quickly their IT smarties can work the final kinks out of that $1bn data center in sunny North Carolina. ®

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