Monday, September 29, 2008

Wal Mart Call Time on DRM

Everyone ones worst nightmare, is to find that the bought betamax or eight track collections when the world went VHS and CDRom respectively. We have already reported in May about Microsoft’s ‘Play for Sure’ service making files not transferable to unregistered devices. So when the PC dies this month and you buy a new one your music dies with the old one. We also pointed the same finger at Virgin Digital Music and Sony Connect Music who have done the same. So we weren’t we surprised to hear today that Wal-Mart had informed its customers, by email, that it will be shutting down its DRM servers this October.

Again, many customer may be left with useless music files. Reportedly, any WMA DRM files that were purchased before February 2008 are locked files to the device they were bought on. WalMart “recommends that you back up your songs by burning them to a recordable audio CD” and that such a backup will make sure that the music files can be accessed. If not backed by October 9, they cannot be transferred to another PC and thereafter cannot be recovered in the case of a system crash of a new installation of the PC. They will still play on the originally authorized computer - that is until it dies!

The point of all this is not that we don’t expect it to happen, but that it continues to happen. In these day of technology change it is essential that interoperability is the goal and that exclusive systems are seen as high risk consumer buys.

Do we think it could happen with ebooks or audio downloads – yes. Many jump on the ePub bandwagon and claim it’s the saviour but today its only available via one DRM service and to one player and they had to change the standard to make that fit. Will it be different to mobiles or other devices we don’t know, but before we focus on tomorrow there are plenty of other formats which are tied to closed DRM services today.

DRM is inherently wrong, because by its sheer nature, it has to be closed. However the alternative DRM free world is also unacceptable to the rights creators and owners. So we have the classic impasse, which ironically, is were music came in.

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