July 24, 2008 | By corynne mcsherry

Here We Go Again: Yahoo! Music Throws Away the DRM Keys

Just over a month after consumer backlash caused MSN Music to rescind its decision to deactivate the digital rights management ("DRM") servers that allowed MSN Music purchasers to "reauthorize" music files after upgrading operating systems or buying new computers, Yahoo! Music has decided to deactivate its own DRM servers.

The ironically named Yahoo! Music Unlimited Store will shut its virtual doors in September, and, as of October 1, will no longer provide license keys for music purchased from the store, nor will it authorize song playback on additional computers. That means Yahoo! Music customers will not be able to transfer songs to “unauthorized computers” or access the songs after changing operating systems. Yahoo! advises customers to back up their music to a CD if they want to be able to access it in the future. In other words, Yahoo! wants its customers to invest more time, labor and money in order to continue to enjoy the music for which they have already paid. In fact, the more music they bought, the more work they'll have to do. What is worse, this suggestion could put customers at legal risk, as they may not have documentation of purchase. Furthermore, there is no certainty that all relevant copyright owners would agree that making such backup copies without permission is lawful.

We’ve warned music fans for years that they could lose their DRM-wrapped music if vendors decided to withdraw support for it. Nonetheless, we hoped that the experience of MSN Music would encourage other vendors to think twice before making their customers pay the price for the vendors’ own faulty business decisions.

If Yahoo! wants to make things right, it should do the following:

• Issue a full public apology to your Yahoo! Music 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 Yahoo! Music 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 song purchased through Yahoo! Music.
• Widely publicize the above measures so that Yahoo! customers know their options. That publicity should include, at a minimum, advertising in major music magazines and newspapers in every major U.S. city, as well as targeted keyword advertising.

At the very least, this announcement is further evidence (if such evidence were needed) that DRM is just 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 technology that is defective by design or violating the trust of their customers.


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