June 20, 2007 | By Hugh D'Andrade

Sony Disconnects

In May 2004, Sony opened up its own store for selling digital music: Sony Connect. From the start, the service was plagued with self-inflicted woes. Thanks to Sony?s use of DRM and a proprietary music format (ATRAC), music bought through Sony Connect could only be played on Sony?s expensive digital music players. And those devices came loaded with software that was awkward and hard to use.

Not surprisingly, Sony is rumored to be pulling the plug on Sony Disconnect, or at least downsizing it. In any case, the problems of Sony's premiere music service make a point that deserves emphasis: customers don?t like having their options limited and being herded into using poorly designed technology.

Jon Healey asks in the LA Times online edition what will happen to music bought through Sony Connect if it were to shut down:

One interesting question now is how long it will take for the files people bought through Sony Connect to become useless bits. Will Connect's customers still be able to authorize new devices so the files can move onto new PCs? What happens if their SonicStage software gets corrupted? Will anyone provide tech support?

Of course, Sony Connect customers could strip out DRM from their music, or tech creators could reverse engineer the DRM to create compatible devices. But sadly, these solutions are illegal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The truth is, these dangers exist whenever you buy DRMed music from any vendor. You're locked into the limited array of players that the DRM is compatible with, and, if that DRM some day is entirely unsupported, you're out of luck.

The continuing appeal of vinyl records shows how wrong-headed this approach is.
LPs continue to play just fine
, decades after the makers of the first record players have gone out of business, thanks to the kind of interoperability that DRM lacks. That's not just good value for customers who bought LPs, it's also good value for a society that values archives and the ability to access its cultural history long after the companies that distributed it have died off.

The failure of Sony to connect with customers is part of a trend that the music industry can?t ignore. With EMI showing strong sales of DRM-free tunes, hopefully other major labels will follow suit.

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