June 8, 2011, 2:03 PM

Even digital music pirates might pay up with Apple’s new iMatch service

The offering, part of the ballyhooed iCloud launch, is priced at $24.99 annually.

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Apple Inc. thinks it has found a way to get consumers to pay for content that they already possess—even if that content is stolen.

At its Worldwide Developers Conference this week, Apple, No. 3 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, launched iMatch, a service that automatically scans a consumer’s music library for tracks the consumer has ripped from his own discs or pirated from the Internet. It then matches those tracks against the iTunes library of roughly 18 million authorized music tracks and adds the authorized version of the tracks to the consumer’s iTunes library.

Apple will sell the service for $24.99 annually.

Apple has not disclosed the revenue split but several reports suggest that music publishers will receive 12% of the revenue, record labels will get 58% and Apple will retain 30%.  

The service appears to give labels a way to earn revenue from music that consumers pirated or bought elsewhere. That’s because consumers who pirate music will end up paying $24.99 a year for access to that music if they use iMatch. And that money will reportedly go, in part, to music rights holders.

The iMatch service gives Apple a leg up on Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., both of which have announced music-storage services recently. But neither has been able to make a deal with the music labels for the kind of scan-and-match service that Apple will offer through iMatch.

Apple announced the launch of iMatch after it unveiled iCloud, a web-based storage and streaming service for consumers. ICloud allows consumers to store online via remote servers their music and media files, such as their Apple iTunes libraries, and access that content from web-enabled devices. It also includes apps for Apple's e-mail, calendar and contacts programs.

Apple’s iCloud mirrors many of the features in the new music storage and streaming services that both Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. launched last month.

Apple provided no immediate comment.

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