The news last week that Microsoft plans to turn off its verification servers for its now-defunct MSN Music store, is a stark reminder of the potential pitfalls customers face whenever they purchase content crippled by Digital Rights Management (DRM) software. Any digital store that sells or loans you content in a copy-protected format makes you a hostage to that store or format’s commercial success. The Microsoft example, however, is just one of many. Here are five cases where companies have sold their customers down the DRM-filled river.
Major League Baseball
In June last year, MLB.com decided to change DRM systems, resulting in any videos of games purchased prior to 2006, even if burnt to CD, becoming unplayable. This is because each time a video is played, the DRM software is required to ‘phone home’ and verify the content with the corresponding DRM server. If the server is no longer in operation the content becomes void. Following complaints from users and a wait of over seven months, MLB rectified the situation, claiming they “didn’t anticipate the problems”, and offered to replace any content where available, like for like, using the newly implemented DRM scheme.
Last August, Google announced that it was closing its video download store, informing existing customers in an email that “after August 15, 2007, you will no longer be able to view your purchased or rented videos.” That’s because, like MLB.com, Google was switching off its DRM verification servers. Compensation was initially offered via a Google Checkout “bonus” credit, but following a user and media backlash, Google eventually relented, offering full credit card refunds to affected customers, in addition to the bonus credit.
In August last year, Sony announced that it was ditching its proprietary audio format, ATRAC, in favor of a variety of more popular formats. At the same time, the company said it planned to close down its Sony Connect music store no earlier than March 2008. While existing libraries of purchased music from the Connect store were not at risk, according to Sony’s official closure FAQ, the company still recommends that customers burn their music libraries to an audio CD — indicating that Sony may not support Connect DRM indefinitely.
Last September, Virgin announced that it would be shutting down its Virgin Digital music store and subscription service in one month’s time. The service allowed customers to download tracks up to four times to replace lost or damaged purchases, such as that caused by a hard drive failure or PC upgrade. Since that option would no longer be available with the store closing, and with it the shutdown of Virgin Digital’s DRM verification server, the company advised customers who’d purchased tracks to back them up on CDs and re-import them as MP3s, if needed. In other words, like Sony, Virgin’s long term response was to encourage their customers to circumvent the existing copy protection.
Just last week, Microsoft sent out an email to customers of its defunct MSN Music store informing them that by August 31, 2008 they need to make a choice: “commit to which computers (and OS) they want to authorize forever, or give up access to the music they paid for”, reports Ars Technica. That’s because Microsoft will be turning off the MSN Music DRM servers by the end of this summer. Once again, customers are left with the only real option of “burning all of their music to audio CD and then re-ripping them back to the computer as MP3s, sans DRM”.
Image credit: DefectiveByDesign.org