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.
Below is a transcript of the email Wal-Mart sent to its customers.
NOTE: This is a follow-up to our email titled "Important Information About Your Digital Music Purchases" from 9/26/08.
Based on feedback from our customers, we have decided to maintain our digital rights management (DRM) servers for the present time. What this means to you is that our existing service continues and there is no action required on your part. Our customer service team will continue to assist with DRM issues for protected windows media audio (WMA) files purchased from Walmart.com.
While our customer support team is available to assist you with any issues, we continue to recommend that you back up your songs by burning them to a recordable audio CD. By backing up your songs, you insure access to them from any personal computer at any time in the future.
We appreciate your support and patience as we work to provide the best service possible to you. As we move forward with our 100% MP3 store, we'll continue to update you with key decisions regarding our service and your account via email.
Thank you for using Walmart MP3 Music Downloads.
The Walmart Digital Music Team