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When DRM Key Servers Vanish, Where Do Users Turn?

Just prior to the National Association of Broadcasters' show in Las Vegas last week, Akamai released a study that showed the power of piracy to cripple advertising revenues if broadcasters don't move their content from the tube (television) to the new tube (the web). The study, mentioned in a recent podcast, tracked a broadcast and found that "illegal versions of a popular U.S.-based primetime television show were available online within minutes of being broadcast, and that thousands of unauthorized downloads had occurred." Akamai said content owners can eliminate the rapid rise in illegal downloads distributing premium content through legitimate channels within 12 hours of initial broadcast, with Akamai suggesting ad-based releases rather than purchases make the most sense.

But what happens in the long-term to those consumers who purchase content through a legitimate service? It's nice to say—especially if your business model is built around recurring revenue models like advertising—that users won't want to or shouldn't pay for content, but that stance assumes content owners know more about the use of their content than content consumers (much in the same way that "street use" of a product can double or triple sales for a product, but some companies want to limit use of their product to just the ways the company thinks it should be used).

What happened to all those MSN Music purchasers? Apparently, based on an email from MSN Entertainment and Video Services general manager Rob Bennett, MSN Music purchases are going to be locked down to a particular set of computers (and operating systems) forever, come August 31.

"I am writing to let you know that as of August 31, 2008, Microsoft will change the level of support to be offered for music purchased directly from MSN Music prior to November 14, 2006," Bennett said in an email this week. "As of August 31, 2008, 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 computers. License keys already obtained as of August 31, 2008 will continue to allow you to listen to songs on all the computers that you previously authorized for service."

This issue of purchased versus streamed, ad-driven content might sound esoteric, but several examples of crippled or eliminated digital rghts management schemes over the past year are leading even the legitimate purchaser into murky areas that often look a lot like those of their non-law-abiding counterparts. You know the type, the ones that download content from file-swapping services.

MSN Entertainment’s Announcement
Consider, for instance, MSN Entertainment's email last week to users of its MSN Music Store. The store was killed back in early 2007 as Microsoft shifted focus from trying to cover DRM and playback for every MP3 player on the planet minus the iPod to a more defensible position as the maker of the Zune and owner of the Zune Music Store.

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