Microsoft, Music, DRM, etc.

Here’s an interesting juxtaposition of stories from Techmeme. The WSJ story is one of many today about Zune 2.5. The link to WSJ takes you only to a couple of paragraphs and an invitation to subscribe, so you’re probably better off with a link to a real article (e.g., at Engadget).

However, none of the stories about Zune 2.5 I’ve scanned say much about DRM. I believe that the Zuniverse is ridden with the stuff.

That brings us to the second story in the above screenshot. The title is yet another exaggerated rumour of music’s death. But the post itself is an excellent account of what Microsoft will do, on August 31, to people who bought from MSN Music.

On that day, Microsoft will turn off the servers that they maintain for the sole purpose of validating that the songs that people have already “purchased” through MSN Music are still theirs to play. Those people (hereafter “the victims”) will not notice the change right away. The victims will only notice it when they purchase a new computer, or when they upgrade the operating system on their current computer, or when the hard drive in their computer dies and needs to be rebuilt/reinstalled. At that point — transferring the music files they have “purchased” to another drive or a new computer — the Microsoft music player running on the victim’s PC (like iTunes, but all Microsoft-y instead of Apple-y) will make a call to Microsoft’s validation servers to verify that the music files were legitimately purchased. This call will fail, since the servers are not responding, since Microsoft has intentionally turned them off. The Microsoft music player will then conclude, incorrectly but steadfastly, that the music files were downloaded illegally and that the victim is a filthy pirate, and it will refuse to play them.

What can we learn from the juxtaposition of the two Techmeme stories? If we are music buyers, we should avoid DRM like the plague, especially when it comes from Microsoft. If we are writing about Zune, or about pretty much anything to do with digital music, we should tell our readers about the DRM implications.

Or we should at least ask our readers to comment on the DRM implications. So, can someone enlighten us about Zune and DRM?