Following in the footsteps of MSN Music and Yahoo! Music, Walmart has notified customers that it will be shutting off its DRM servers in less than two weeks. Walmart's been selling DRM-free music since February, but anyone who bought music before that date will not be able to transfer those songs to “unauthorized computers,” or access the songs after changing operating systems. Walmart, like MSN and Yahoo!, advises customers to back up their music to a CD if they want to be able to access it in the future. So, Walmart customers get to invest more time, labor and money in order to continue to enjoy the music for which they have already paid.
We’ve warned music fans for years that they could lose their DRM-wrapped music if vendors decided to withdraw support for it. So we're not surprised that three major vendors have done just that. What is surprising is that Walmart has not learned from MSN Music and Yahoo! Music's experience and made some effort to make things right with its customers. When consumers protested the shutdown of its DRM servers, MSN Music decided to delay that shutdown until 2011. Yahoo! decided to go ahead with its shutdown, but offered refunds to customers damaged by the cutoff. Notwithstanding this recent history, Walmart is still willing to make customers pay the price for the retailer's own faulty business decisions.
We'll tell Walmart what we told MSN Music and Yahoo! Music: To make things right, the company should do the following:
• Issue a full public apology to its customers.
• Offer to refund the purchase price of the affected downloads or, at the customer's option, provide replacements from an online store that offers the same tracks in a DRM-free format.
• Ensure that all Walmart buyers have (or have permanent access to) receipts identifying dates, amounts, and titles purchased, so they have proofs of purchase. Or, better yet, offer to cover their legal costs if they are hit with a copyright infringement claim based on a DRM-crippled song purchased through Walmart.
We hate to sound like, um, a broken record, but this is yet another demonstration that DRM is bad business. It's bad for the consumers who don't actually own the music they pay for; it's bad for the rightsholders who lose out when legal copies of their songs are worth less than illegally obtained copies; and it's bad for the companies that must choose between maintaining a defective technology or violating the trust of their customers.