Intense customer backlash has forced the online music arm of Wal-Mart to reverse its position on its controversial plan to deactivate all DRM authentication servers on October 9th. The move would have left countless customers with music files that could never be re-authenticated should they wish to play them on a new PC. Deactivating DRM server’s isn’t a new trend, but the announcement differed from other vendors simply because of the sheer lack of notice customers were given to backup music. The first notice only went out on September 28th giving a mere two weeks warning. For those who aren’t sure if they are affected, the DRM servers are only necessary for authenticating tracks purchased prior to February 2008. In February the retailer made the popular shift from DRM-ed WMA’s to unprotected MP3’s.
Even though the servers are safe for now, the vaguely worded email from Wal-Mart continues to urge customers to make backups of their music by burning them on CD. Music burned to an audio CD can be copied back to your hard drive DRM free using many free applications such as iTunes, but unfortunately not without an unavoidable loss of quality. No new dates are given for the server deactivation but the email doesn’t suggest the retailer’s commitment to the DRM servers will be long term. With the industry shift to copy protection free music well underway, this and other similar announcements are a lesson to us all. No authentication server (Apple included) is likely to be around forever. Now is as good a time as any to backup your tunes.
If you bought music from Walmart.com before February 2008 (when Walmart.com started selling MP3 music), your ability to move music files from PC to PC has a very short shelf life. How short? Try October 9, 2008. That's the date that Walmart.com will shut down the DRM servers that control your ability to play non-MP3 music purchased from Walmart.com.
After 10/9/2008, you won't be able to move your music to another computer or access the songs on your system if you upgrade to another operating system or reinstall your current OS after a crash or to refresh its bits and bytes.
Fortunately, there's a bit of good news. While there's no way to extend the shelf life of that half-gallon of milk you lost a month ago in the back of your refridgerator, Walmart "strongly recommend[s] that you back up your songs by burning them to a recordable audio CD. By backing up your songs, you will be able to access them from any personal computer."
It's almost enough to make you agree with BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow, who posted Walmart.com's message (excerpted above) and added this rejoinder:
Boy, the entertainment industry sure makes a good case for ripping them off, huh? Buy your media and risk having it confiscated by a DRM-server shutdown. Take it for free and keep it forever.
My answer? I buy CDs and rip them myself. What's yours? Hit the jump for your chance to sound off.