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October Surprises: Wal-Mart Turns off DRM, iTunes Threatens to Shut Down

[Editor's Note: Just after we posted this story, Wal-Mart sent out an email to customers indicating they would not be pulling the plug on their DRM servers after all. Click here for a Gizmodo report.]

October certainly is getting into full swing, and the stock market's not the only thing dropping. Wal-Mart, with less than two weeks' warning, pulled the plug on purchases who had bought Wal-Mart's $.88 music downloads that used Microsoft's DRM solution.

"We began offering MP3s in August 2007 and have offered only DRM (digital rights management)-free MP3s since February 2008," said an email that Wal-Mart sent to purchasers in late September. "As the final stage of our transition to a full DRM-free MP3 download store, Wal-Mart will be shutting down our digital rights management system that supports protected songs and albums purchased from our site."

While Yahoo is also set to shut down its DRM servers in October, the company succumbed to customer sentiment and offered refunds to those who purchased DRM-based music files.

Wal-Mart, for its part, avoids the issue by making its announcement—and implementing it—in very short order. The company also gave customers the same advice that MSN Music and Yahoo had provided: Make a CD version of the music (in unprotected Red Book Audio) so that the purchaser can continue to listen to purchased music after October 9. This workaround, popular with those who bought DRM music, is still disturbing for those who look to maintain legitimate use of content they purchased.

"We will no longer be able to assist with digital rights management issues for protected WMA files purchased from Walmart.com," the letter continued. "If you do not back up your files before this date, you will no longer be able to transfer your songs to other computers or access your songs after changing or reinstalling your operating system or in the event of a system crash."

The Wal-Mart letter also mimicked MSN and Yahoo, by noting that music and video collections will still play on the originally authorized computer, but a visit to the downloads.walmart.com site prior to the cut-off time also noted that particular users would not be able to access the new MP3 non-DRM Wal-Mart music store unless they upgraded their computer.

"Thank you for using Walmart.com for music downloads. We are working hard to make our store better than ever and easier to use," read a warning on the site. "To provide the best download experience, we can no longer support Windows 98, ME or NT. Please visit again after you upgrade to Windows 2000 or XP."

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