San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging Microsoft Corporation to fix the problems it will cause when it shuts down the MSN Music validation servers, making it impossible for customers to transfer their music files to new computers or even upgrade their operating system.

In an open letter sent to Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer today, EFF outlines five steps Microsoft must take to make things right for MSN Music customers -- including a issuing a public apology, providing refunds or replacement music files, and launching a substantial publicity campaign to make sure all customers know their options.

"MSN Music customers trusted Microsoft when it said that this was a safe way to buy music, and that trust has been betrayed," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "If Microsoft is prepared to treat MSN Music customers like this, is there any reason to suppose that future customers won't get the same treatment?"

MSN Music sold song downloads encumbered with digital rights management (DRM), allowing the music to be played only on approved devices. If you upgraded your computer or operating system, you needed to "reauthorize" your music files with MSN Music's DRM server. But last week, Microsoft announced that it would deactivate those servers because of the complexity of maintaining the technology -- meaning that customers face losing the ability to play their purchased music if they get a new computer or if the hard drive crashes on the old one. Microsoft's only suggestion for customers so far is to export all purchases onto a CD and then recopy it back onto new computers.

"Microsoft is asking its customers to spend more time, labor, and money to make degraded copies of music that was purchased in good faith," said EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "This outcome was easily foreseeable from the moment Microsoft chose to wrap MSN Music files in DRM. Microsoft customers should not have to pay for Microsoft's bad business decisions."

EFF's letter also calls on Microsoft to eliminate DRM from its Zune music service now -- or at least to publicly commit to compensating future customers for the inevitable future DRM debacles.

"With MSN Music, Microsoft has admitted just how expensive, clumsy, and unfair DRM is. It's time for Microsoft to reject this sloppy technology, and for customers to demand something better," McSherry said.

For the full open letter:


Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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