Apple’s and U2’s unsolicited music release: gift or spam?

On: September 18, 2014
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About Richelle Werners
Hi! I'm Richelle and I'm a student living in Amsterdam. Currently I am an New Media and Digital Culture student at the UvA. I also have a Master of Science degree (Political Communication and Journalism) and two bachelor degrees (Communication Science and Media, information and Communication Management).


On the 9th of September Apple published a press release titled Apple & U2 Release “Songs of Innocence” Exclusively for iTunes Store Customers. In this press release Apple announced that together with the famous rock band U2 they will release U2’s new album ‘Songs of innocence’ for free via Apple’s music platform, the iTunes Store. After the release, the way the album was distributed, triggered a discussion about the appropriateness of its unsolicited nature. The release also raised several questions concerning this new development in the music industry and what this says about the power of providers of music platforms in influencing and imposing choice of music consumption.

Apple and U2 announce the free album release.

Apple and U2 stated that they are gifting “Songs of Innocence” to iTunes Store account holders. This means that the album was added automatically to all iOS devices linked to account holders in 119 countries. By doing so, Apple and U2 state that they are making this album release ‘the largest album release ever with over half a billion copies distributed’.

Although Apple’s and U2’s intentions might seem good, not everybody was happy to find U2’s album for free in their music library. Comments on social network services and new media blogs, for example on TechCrunch or Mashable, indeed showed that a lot of iTunes Store customers complained about the unsolicited nature of the album. They complained about the fact that the album was downloaded without their permission, that their privacy was violated, about the album taking over storage, or simply about the fact that they did not like U2. Someone even joked on Twitter about discovering a virus on his iPhone called ‘U2’.

The unsolicited nature of the album release raises the question whether the release could resemble spam. Without prejudice to U2 as a band and Apple as an internet-music pioneer, the appropriateness of the release seems questionable. Since no accept or deny function was offered, the album was forced on upon all iTunes users, which is quite striking. This unsolicited album release thus corresponds more with the concept of ‘spam’ than with it being a gift. Heymann, Koutrika and Garcia-Molina state that the notion of spam is subjective, but define spam as either content designed to mislead or content that the platform’s legitimate users don’t wish to receive (36). The last part of this definition corresponds perfectly with the album release. Especially since the iTunes users had no choice but to receive the album. It even seemed that the album was difficult to remove.

Although the internet has, by making the online distribution of music possible, disrupted the normal way of conducting business in the music industry (Meisel and Sullivan 16), it seems that Apple and U2 completely ignore the fact that music is all about preference. Taste in music is very personal and results from preference and choice. The unsolicited nature of the album release completely neglects the user. This is even more surprising since the album is distributed via the iTunes Store, a platform where people choose, buy, and download music they indeed wish to receive. Therefor, the album release might have been a bridge too far because it neglects the users of the platform and is now used as a powerful marketing instrument. By not making the release optional, but by simply forwarding the album to half a billion devices, Apple’s iTunes has become not only a platform that serves its users, but one that serves itself.

New trend
The development of unsolicited album releases in the music industry relates to the music industry and the power of providers of music platforms in influencing and imposing choice of music consumption. First, this development signifies a question related to the power of Apple as a provider of a music platform. By accepting Apple’s terms and conditions, Apple now also has gained the right to upload unsolicited media content onto its customer’s iOS devices. What more can be expected from Apple in this? If Apple neglects the fact that music is about preference, which rights of consumers will Apple neglect more? Second, this development signifies questions concerning the music industry and music advertising. For example, how does this new development affect the music industry and the way music is promoted? Hence, the U2 album release by Apple raises a lot of questions and concerns that need to be addressed in the light of media users’ rights and preferences, the power of platforms such as iTunes, and the effects on the music industry.

Also interesting:


Heymann, Paul, Georgia Koutrika, and Hector Garcia-Molina. “Fighting spam on social web sites: A survey of approaches and future challenges.” Internet Computing, IEEE 11.6 (2007): 36-45.

Meisel, John B., and Timothy S. Sullivan. “The impact of the Internet on the law and economics of the music industry.” info 4.2 (2002): 16-22.

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