Back in November, 2006 Microsoft shut the doors on the failed MSN Music download service but kept the DRM servers going to support existing customers. Last week, the end of that service on August 31, 2008 was announced as well.
Like iTunes, PlaysForSure authorizations are bound not only to a user’s individual computer, but to that particular instance of their operating system as well. If a user has to rebuild, upgrade, or otherwise reinstall his or her operating system, authorizations for MSN Music subscriptions will be reset.
MSN Music customers have little recourse, unfortunately. Aside from permanently deciding which computers will keep their account’s authorization – once August 31 passes, authorizations cannot be changed – users have the option of burning purchased MSN Music to CD and then re-ripping the music to another compressed format, such as MP3. However, the process of “transcoding” (converting) lossy-compressed files (as WMA files are) to another lossy format (such as MP3) significantly degrades the quality of the resulting MP3 file. Users can also burn their music to CD and convert to a lossless format, such as FLAC, but lossless formats consume significantly more space in order to make a perfect copy of already-degraded WMA files.
If you aren’t an audiophile, that probably isn’t a bad solution, but the fact that it’s the only solution grated on many. Microsoft’s Rob Bennett defended the decision for the obvious reasons:
In an interview with CNET News.com, Bennett said that continuing to support the DRM keys was impractical, that the issue only affects a "small number" of people and that focusing exclusively on Zune was the best way to go. He also noted that it wasn’t Microsoft’s decision to wrap music into digital rights management.
The reason for shutting down the DRM-licensing servers was "every time there is an OS upgrade, the DRM equation gets complex very quickly," said Bennett, general manager of entertainment, video, and sports for MSN. "Every time, you saw support issues. People would call in because they couldn’t download licenses. We had to write new code, new configurations each time…We really believe that, going forward, the best thing to do is focus exclusively on Zune."
The main takeaway is that DRM schemes for failed download services are like any other failed audio/video format such as 8-track audio tapes or Beta videotapes or HD high-def DVDs – the purchaser is at the mercy of the technology providers and if the business goes south, so does your media collection. Of course, the other takeaway is that if you don’t buy DRM protected digital content, you won’t have a problem and that is getting easier in the audio realm every day.