By Harry McCracken | Friday, October 10, 2008 at 10:44 pm
There’s good news–sort of!–from Bentonville: Walmart.com, which had told folks who bought copy-protected music that it was shutting down the DRM servers that let them move their tunes from device to device, has relented. At least for the moment. Ars Technica has details, along with some good background on previous instances of big companies who gave up on DRM. In almost every case, they only made an effort to make their customers happy in the wake of a consumer backlash against their original plans.
It seems to be pretty clear that this cycle will end eventually, since DRM is rapidly disappearing. At least from music, since Wal-Mart and nearly every other purveyor of music downloads except Apple, Microsoft, and subscription services such as Napster and Rhapsody have gone completely DRM-free. (Video downloads are still almost always shackled with copy protection.)
I put “buyers” in quotes in the headline for this post because every time an entertainment merchant decides that maintaining DRM servers isn’t worth the hassle, it’s new evidence of an important point: When you buy anything that can be disabled or hobbled remotely, you didn’t really buy it. You’re just leasing it for an unspecified period. Wal-Mart’s change of heart means that period isn’t ending immediately for its customers, but it will end, apparently…and when it does, I think the right thing would still be for the company to give its customers their money back.