Blown To Bits

Yahoo helps its stranded DRM customers

Friday, August 1st, 2008 by Hal Abelson

I wrote last week about Yahoo’s shutdown of its Music Store Server, thereby stranding customers who had bought music controlled by the Music Store’s digital rights management. This week, Yahoo announced that it will compensate stranded customers with coupons for replacing music tacks from Real Network’s Rhapsody, whose music is free of DRM copying restrictions.

It’s good to see Yahoo showing concern for its customers, and even better to see them offering higher-value, i.e. non-DRM, replacements. As recently as February 2007, Warner Music’s CEO was deriding the idea of non-DRM music as “completely without logic or merit.” Now DRM-free is becoming the norm for on-line music, with the growing realization that DRM is bad deal for music, not only for customers but for publishers, and also, as explained in Blown to Bits, for innovation. I expect that we’ll see the same shift in attitudes toward DRM-free video within a couple of years.

Yahoo was wise to quickly make amends to its customers, because there’s a lot more at stake for the IT industry than lost music tracks. The basic phenomenon of Yahoo’s (and earlier, Microsoft’s) announcement about shutting down DRM servers was that of leading high-tech companies offering a product that entailed a long-term commitment to maintaining a customer service, and then abandoning that commitment when the economics went sour.

What does that mean for the industry’s growing emphasis on cloud computing? After all, if you can’t count on Yahoo to keep your music available for five years, how can you count on Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others to keep your company email and documents available for … do you need to have confidence for 10 years? 20? 50? I’d be viewing these server shutdowns nervously if I were a corporate CIO faced with the option of moving to cloud computing. And I’d be thinking hard about them if I were high-tech exec eager to get into the cloud business. After all, maintaining “long term” DRM servers seemed like a great business opportunity in 2004.

One Response to “Yahoo helps its stranded DRM customers”

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