Backing up iTunes Purchases

May 26, 2008

iTunes allows you to back up your purchased media, in fact you can make a back up of your entire library.  However, since most of my non-iTunes purchased media is already on CD, I don’t see a need to back up the iTunes version.  My iTunes purchases include the introductory mini-series and first three seasons of Battlestar Galactica (BSG), a whopping 18 GB of material, that, quite frankly, has to go.  Even with an after-market 100 GB drive installed in the Powerbook, I’m regularly below 8 or 9 GB of free disk space these days.

My Powerebook only has the Combo-drive, capable of reading DVDs, and burning CDs.  Backing up the BSG shows to CD would take some 26 or 27 CDs, and who knows how long for each CD.  Not really looking forward to feeding the laptop CD after CD for an entire day, I’ve been putting this chore off for a while. With rain in the forecast for our Memorial Day weekend I decided to start the process Friday night, and just feed the slot drive as needed.  Clicking on File Back Up to Disc… option started the process.  After inserting a blank CD I was informed that one of the purchased items was larger than the 700 MB capacity, and that I should insert a DVD instead.

Huh?  Larger than 700MB?  Something purchased from iTunes?

Turns out that one of the Battlestar Galactica episodes I was trying to back up was in fact a two-hour episode, and weighed in at a whopping 900 MB.  Since the Powerbook hasn’t got a DVD burner it appeared, at first, like I was out of luck.

I do have the original 40 GB hard drive, in a USB/Firewire enclosure, however.  And iTunes will allow you to transfer purchased content to a different computer.  So.  The 18 GB of BSG stuff was copied to the portable drive, so that it could be imported to the ThinkPad, which does sport a DVD burner.  Of course what it didn’t have was 18 GB of free space.  It too suffers from creeping drive usage disease and has only about 5 GB free out of an 80 GB drive.  Triaging the drive in the ThinkPad, I found some old Java/HTML/Ruby archives that could be moved off the machine, and so I copied them to the portable drive, giving me about 10 GB of free space to work with.  Not enough for the entire 18 GB, but just barely enough to import and backup a season at a time.

After importing season 1 (and activating the computer on my iTunes account), I was able to start the backup process.  While I didn’t keep track of the time, it seemed to produce the completed DVD in fairly short order.  With season 1 on DVD, I deleted the episodes from the ThinkPad and imported season 2, and back them  up as well.  Season 3, with the two-part episode, weighed in at nearly 10 GB all by itself.  Apparently NBC or the SciFi Channel or Apple, increased the video quality and consequently the individual episode size.  iTunes informed me that it would have to create data disks and that the back up would span 3 DVDs total.  Fine.  Again, each disk took a relatively short period of time to be completed.

After testing each of the disks to make sure they weren’t coasters, I returned to the Powerbook and deleted the three seasons from my hard drive.  Now, instead of 8 or 9 GB of  free space I have 26 GB.  Much better.  As a bonus, I now have a backup of my iTunes purchased television programs.

UPDATE: October 24, 2009 - I’ve now successfully restored the backed up material to my new computer. You can read about that in Restoring iTunes Backups.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.