MSN Music users have already dealt with the shutdown of the Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) service; now they're hearing the Mission Impossible theme as the music they acquired will self-destruct if they need to change hardware after Aug. 31. MSN has been supporting music library transfers since the store shut down in 2006 by providing DRM keys for the move to new computers. The pool of affected users is "small" and the level of support needed is impractical, MSN's Rob Bennett told CNET News.com. Instead, the preference is to focus on Zune exclusively. That decision is Microsoft's but Bennett said the choice that created the situation came from the labels: "Had we had the ability to deliver DRM-free tracks at the time, we absolutely would have done that. We talked to the labels at the time about that. As a company, we have continued to push for this. Zune has a subset in their catalog of DRM-free MP3s. Now, the industry is making progress. The labels are understanding the downside of DRM when its used the way they wanted to use it, they end up punishing the users who bought music legally more than those who want to circumvent the system."
Microsoft does support DRM-free but it has also courted labels, studios and other content providers by developing and promoting DRM solutions. Its own DRM decisions, coupled with those of the studios, have left Zune users like me unable to use the services that meet their standard formerly known as "PlaysForSure" unless the songs are purchased and converted for upload. And who knows for sure how long Microsoft will stand behind Zune? They're fervent about it now but it's not unusual for Microsoft to back away from supporting hardware or a service. At least with subscription music, there's no pretense it's yours to keep.
By Staci D. Kramer