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Last protected music simply disappearing from iTunes?

While Apple's move to remove copy protection from iTunes songs has been welcomed, shoppers have found that some protected songs have been pulled outright with no immediate signs of iTunes Plus replacements.

AppleInsider readers, those in our forums and site staff themselves have noticed that songs which were still sold only in a FairPlay-protected format are either no longer visible on the store or are no longer recognized as purchases, preventing an iTunes Plus upgrade.

As an example, Neil Young's "The Bridge School Collection" albums —which were online exclusives for Apple's store —surface in the auto-populated search suggestions but are unusually absent in the actual search results. Other titles no longer show at all, and the number of songs eligible for iTunes Plus has decreased even when the songs themselves still exist on the iTunes Store as iTunes Plus editions.

Why the disappearances are taking hasn't been formally explained by Apple. The firm had promised that it would offer all its songs without locks by the end of the quarter but didn't say it would pull the older versions if it didn't reach that timetable or if they were needed for iTunes Plus reasons.

The LA Times recently floated a rumor, however, that Apple would use April 7th as a cutoff date that would switch iTunes from its longstanding flat-rate model to variable pricing, which may affect licensing or other purchasing concerns for tracks whose artists or publishing labels haven't agreed to changes. Apple is known to have had hard-fought negotiations with labels to institute variable pricing on its planned schedule.

No matter what's triggering the pullback, the shift is little comfort to those who either wanted particular albums or had planned to upgrade, either for the freedom to move songs to any device or for the better sound quality. Apple hasn't outlined what these customers can do, leaving at least some frustrated.

"I still need to upgrade my old non-Plus songs to Plus," one AppleInsider reader says. "Where do I go now?"