No need to panic now, MSN Music customers ... at least for a few more years

Microsoft, caving into pressure from customers and bloggers, agreed to extend the life of the DRM authentication servers belonging to its now-defunct MSN Music store.

While no longer functioning today, in its heyday MSN Music sold DRM-protected music playable on devices with the PlaysForSure logo, a compatibility campaign designed to unify the disparate authentication schemes between different MP3 players. The company seemingly abandoned that campaign with the introduction of the Microsoft Zune, which carried a newer, independent DRM system that only works with the device’s separate music store, dubbed the Zune Marketplace.

MSN Music customers will now be able to authenticate their music through the end of 2011, after which Microsoft will continue to provide availability depending on customer demand.

The decision, announced Thursday in an e-mail to MSN Music customers, represents a complete turnaround, as previously customers could only authenticate their music purchases until August 31, 2008. While customers would have been able to listen to their music after the cutoff date, they would only be able to do so as long as their existing authentications are intact; since unauthenticated files are essentially unusable, the decision essentially forbid users from upgrading, formatting, or otherwise revamping their operating system, or migrating their music collection to a new computer.

The cutoff drew the criticism of a wide variety of bloggers and commentators, and earned Microsoft a strongly-worded letter from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “The decision means that every customer that bought an mp3 from you … faces losing music if she upgrades her PCs or her hard drive crashed after August 31, 2008,” said the group, who went on to demand a public apology, refunds, and the assurance that customers would have easy access to receipts.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein
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