Last week, Yahoo! faced a predictable backlash when they announced that they would be ending support for the DRM that came with music sold through its Yahoo Music service. EFF and others criticized the decision, saying Yahoo should either continue to support the DRM or compensate their customers with refunds and/or replacement mp3s. Now, Yahoo has happily chosen to do right by their customers and provide full refunds for any music sold through Yahoo Music that came wrapped in what is soon-to-be obsolete copy protection.
As many commentators have noted, this is not the first such DRM kerfuffle, and it won't be the last. DRM creates headaches, not just for the customers who find their use of their music restricted, but also for the companies that sell it, since they are required to ensure the DRM will continue to work under each new operating system change as time goes on. When companies try to phase out their DRM support — as MSN Music tried to do a few months ago — they face outraged customers who find the music they paid for will no longer play the next time they upgrade. (MSN decided to delay the decision by continuing support for DRM until 2011.)
Small wonder that so many online music retailers continue to move away from DRM and towards more user-friendly formats like MP3s. But this problem will continue to dog the companies that sold DRM music to customers in the past. Online music retailers like Yahoo, MSN Music, and Apple's iTunes have sold millions of tracks burdened with copyright protection that will require continued support if customers are to receive what they thought they paid for. Those customers handed over their hard-earned cash for music that they expect to be able to continue to enjoy now and in the future — just as we continue to enjoy the vinyl records and even 8-track tapes that were sold decades ago. Companies like Yahoo have an obligation to ensure that expectation is met.
Yahoo's decision sets a good precedent for when this problem inevitably arises again. Vendors that sold DRM-crippled music must either continue supporting tech that no one likes — as MSN Music chose to do — or take Yahoo's path and fairly compensate consumers with refunds. It's the right thing to do.