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You are about to become DRM roadkill

The Inquirer’s Charlie Demerjian reports that we’re all about to become DRM roadkill. Or, at least the people who were stupid enough to buy DRM protected music. Microsoft is setting the example and is showing everyone what corporations can do to those who buy DRM protected content.

Just head on over to Microsoft’s PlaysForSure website and take a look at the companies listed there. If you bought music from any of those companies, you’re going to have trouble getting that music to play in the future, even on Microsoft’s own soon to be released Zune player (their iPod competitor). Zune will not support the version of Microsoft’s DRM that is used by PlaysForSure. This means that the songs you bought won’t play on Zune, and that you will likely have to buy them all again if you want to listen to them on a Zune player. They won’t even play on an iPod, since the iPod doesn’t support Microsoft’s DRM.

Even worse, as reported before, the new DRM version that Microsoft will use, will not allow you to transfer your licenses to another device at all or make backups of them. So if that device breaks, you lose your content as well.

Demerjian calls this one of the more massive screwings of customers by Microsoft. And I have to agree. They’re even screwing their partners with this as Michael Robertson writes here:

In spite of the larger display and capacity the Zune is inferior to the MusicGremlin because it zunes your entire purchased music library. Microsoft made a corporate decision to abandon their previous technology called “Plays for Sure” and turn it into “Screwed for Sure”. Anyone who purchased music from Rhapsody, Napster,, Wal-mart, BuyMusic, etc. will discover that music is unplayable. (Of course iTunes music won’t play either because Apple doesn’t play nicely with others.) You’ll be required to re-purchase that music or go without.

The danger with DRM is that it gives corporations the power to change the rules of the game anytime they think it will benefit their bank account, even if that means zuning your music library. There’s no better illustration of this than when the world’s largest technology company curtails support of their OWN technology abandoning their hardware partners, music stores and most importantly customers they convinced to use Plays for Sure. Microsoft will surely claim that they’ll continue to support Plays for Sure, but their actions speak louder than their words – it won’t even play on their own music players! Plays for Sure is dead for sure and it’s going to its grave with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of music fans? digital music crammed into the coffin.


How do you know if music or video is protected or restricted? Here are some things to look for:

  • The music or video (content) has copy restrictions. You can’t copy the files to another computer or device and play them there. You cannot make backups of the files and play them on another device or computer, even if the old one has been damaged. You are only allowed to make a very limited number of backups.
  • The content has restrictions on the number of times you can play or look at it. Restrictions can also apply to the number of days you can use the content, or it can expire after a certain time after which it becomes unusable.
  • The content is distributed in a proprietary file format and cannot be played on other devices or using other software. Apple iTunes is a good example of this – You can only play music you buy from Apple on their own devices using their own software. If you’re buying music, you should make sure it is in a format that is open and widely supported, such as MP3. If you’re buying video, DivX or XVid are good formats.
  • Read the End User License Agreements and make sure you understand what kind of restrictions or limitations apply to the content you’re buying. Remember that these companies probably won’t refer to them as restrictions.
  • Ask questions to the people selling content to you and make sure you can play them where ever you want for however long you want. Ask them about any limitations, restrictions or protection that applies to the content.

If you must buy devices such as iPod or Zune, only buy them when you see that they support open formats such as MP3, which will ensure you that you can use your existing music collection on them. I own an iPod nano, but I never bought any music from Apple. I only put MP3 songs on my iPod. When I want to use another MP3 player, I can simply copy the MP3 music files to the other player and use them there. DRM protected content will not allow this.

So be careful with what you invest your money in. As shown above, if you make the wrong decision and buy protected content, chances are you’re going to lose your investment in the future because it becomes unusable.

I hope the most evil team at Microsoft are proud of themselves and their accomplishments. Let’s see if they can top this in the future with even more boneheaded ideas.


  1. Karel Donk » Archive » You are about to become DRM roadkill, Part II - Judgement Day (25/04/2008)
  2. Karel Donk's Blog » Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection (20/12/2018)


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