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Microsoft Lets the Music Play

Microsoft has reversed a decision it made earlier this year, where it said it would shut off the digital right management servers required to authorize new devices to play music from its now-defunct MSN Music service. The servers are required any time a user wanted to authorize a computer or other playback device—even, potentially, a device that already had existing authorization but had its operating system updated.

The company sent an email to its users on June 18 of this year noting, in part:

"On April 22, Microsoft notified you that as of August 31st, 2008, we would be changing the level of support for music purchased from MSN Music, and while your existing purchased music would continue to play, you would no longer be able to authorize new PCs and devices to play that music."

This "changing the level of support" had been noted in the previous email with Microsoft saying "we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computer."

This meant, for instance, that users who upgraded to Vista after August 31, 2008, would lose the ability to deauthorize their computer prior to upgrading the operating system and then re-authorizing it after updating to the newer OS.

The new email went on to say that the company has decided to support the DRM server keys for several years.

"After careful consideration, Microsoft has decided to continue to support the authorization of new computers and devices and delivery of new license keys for MSN Music customers through at least the end of 2011," the email said, "after which we will evaluate how much this functionality is still being used and what steps should be taken next to support our customers."

To make sure the number of its customers that had been vocal about the company's inability to continue the DRM servers knew what the short-term implications of this decision were, the email noted that the decision meant customers would "be able to listen to your purchased music and transfer your music to new PCs and devices beyond the previously announced August 31, 2008 date."

One poster at the arstechnica.com forums, which broke the original story, summed up the relief of the MSN Music users, noting the feeling that DRM authentication is akin—at least in the minds of music purchasers—to buying a physical CD.

"DRM providers should be legally bound to support and update their systems to new hardware/OSs until the material can be freely released without DRM," said poster Erlik, "either because the copyright has expired or because the artist or label decided to release it in the public domain. When you buy music, you buy the right to listen to it pretty much forever. If you are limited because you can't transfer the music to a new player or computer with a reasonable amount of ease when your old one die , then it's not a sale, it's a rental 'until you computer/player dies' and should be clearly marketed as NOT a sale."

As industry executives in the digital rights management space note, however, DRM is the primary difference between physical media buying and online media buying.

"Is DRM the culprit? No," said Christopher Levy, CEO of BuyDRM in an interview at the time Microsoft announced its initial intent to turn off the DRM servers this August. "Website operators must conduct themselves in a responsible and professional manner regardless of the technologies they are deploying. When deploying DRM operators must work to satisfy the needs of their consumers and when possible make the acquisition, management, and recovery of licensed media and license keys as simple as possible and not an inconvenience."

In this instance, it appears that Microsoft is eliminating the inconvenience altogether for at least the next three years.

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