Apple media sharing limits explained and why you should use Plex instead

Apple has implemented multiple kinds of sharing for media—apps, music, audiobooks, movies, and TV shows—but imposes limits across a few directions, ostensibly not to reduce piracy, but limit the reach of any particular purchased item. Some of this–maybe all of it–is at the behest of copyright holders that require Apple to meet certain terms to offer the media at all.

If you BYOM (bring your own media) to any of Apple’s software that manages, plays, and shares it, you’ll feel these limitations, depending on with whom you share and how you’ve set things up.

The better alternative if you have a lot of your own stuff to share among a family, including on the go and geographically dispersed? Plex.

(It’s obligatory and morally necessary for me to point out that none of this advocates sharing media in a way that’s prohibited by the terms of what you’ve purchased or been given access to. Those rights tend to be either explicitly broader or carved out through court cases for media shared within a family or in a single residence.)

Apple’s version of sharing

Family Sharing. This free option allows up to six people you claim in the same family to give each access to a common set of apps (if the app developer offers sharing), purchased media, and optionally to one iCloud storage subscription, even though the storage is still private to each individual. (Starting with the next release of Apple’s operating systems, including Big Sur, developers can also let Family Sharing include sharing in-app purchases and subscriptions.)

Family Sharing doesn’t include any items you’ve added to a media library, like iTunes, Music, or TV. That includes omitting music that you’ve purchased or ripped and rely on iTunes Match to find high-quality copies of and sync across your own iCloud-linked devices. Only purchased music and other media is shared.

Home Sharing. Separate from Family Sharing, Home Sharing isn’t primarily designed to let you share media with different people, but to share it among your own devices on a local network. You can authorize up to five computers and access it from mobile, too. Guests have access as well, including to media you have in your libraries that’s not purchased from Apple.

Turn on Home Sharing in Mojave and earlier in iTunes: iTunes > Preferences > Sharing and check Share My Library on My Local Network. In Catalina and later, use the Sharing preference pane, select Media Sharing, and check the Home Sharing box and Share Media with Guests.