It’s DRM deja vu all over again. Yet another major purveyor of copy-protected media has alerted the customers that purchased downloads from it that it’s shutting down its DRM servers, thereby crippling the stuff those customers bought. This time it’s Walmart.com and it joins Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo in what’s becoming a really predictable tradition of handling the situation poorly.
Wal-Mart, which has shifted its site’s music store to DRM-free MP3s (good), sent a e-mail to purchasers of its earlier downloads wrapped in Microsoft DRM advising them that it will shut down the DRM server as of October 9th. Once it’s done that, the tunes can no longer be transferred to new computers or devices; Wal-Mart suggests that customers burn CDs to prevent the music from becoming unusable, long-term.
What it apparently isn’t planning to do is give those “buyers” their money back for the songs they “purchased.” Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo all ended up having to do better by their customers than they originally intended; I hope that Wal-Mart, too, will issue refunds or credits. (Actually, I woulda hoped they would have learned from the other companies’ mistake and not replicated it in the first place.)
Remember, Wal-Mart’s music was promoted with Microsoft’s PlaysForSure tagline, one of the hollowest promises ever made in the history of personal technology. I don’t know how much it would have cost Wal-Mart to keep its DRM servers chugging, but I suspect it could have come up with the dough if it had considered PlaysForSure to be an obligation rather than hollow marketing copy.
It’s beyond debate: Any time you pay for music, movies, or other content that’s locked up with DRM that talks to a remote server somewhere, you’re not really buying anything. It can be taken away from you at the whim of the merchant, without you being able to do a thing about it–and the way things have gone so far, there’s every reason to think that most such content will eventually be taken away from the people who thought they bought it,