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Yahoo Becomes Latest Site to Mute Music Purchases (Updated)

The e-mail Yahoo sent out yesterday to customers of its Yahoo Music online store could not have surprised anybody who's been following the music-download business lately.

The beleaguered Sunnyvale, Calif., Web firm's music store is following the same score as earlier big-name failures like Sony Connect and MSN Music. It's shutting down the "digital rights management" servers that regulate the use of the songs it sells, ensuring those files will go silent eventually. But unlike those other two stores, Yahoo is providing barely two months' notice of the move to its customers.

At least yesterday's e-mail, headlined "The Yahoo! Music Store Will Be Closing; Important Information About Backing Up Your Music Files," describes the situation with a minimum of doublespeak:

After September 30, 2008, you will not be able to transfer songs to unauthorized computers or re-license these songs after changing operating systems. Please note that your purchased tracks will generally continue to play on your existing authorized computers unless there is a change to the computer's operating system.

For any user who purchased tracks through Yahoo! Music Unlimited, we highly recommend that you back up the purchased tracks to an audio CD before the closing of the Store on September 30, 2008. Backing up your music to an audio CD will allow you to copy the music back to your computer again if the license keys for your original music files cannot be retrieved.

(There's more at a frequently-asked-questions file.)

In retrospect, Yahoo's $160 million purchase of MusicMatch in 2004 looks like an especially wasteful acquisition. The company has blown more money on individual purchases -- but how many of them not only delivered zero long-term value but will also wind up alienating thousands of paying customers on their way out?

And yet at the same time I must thank Yahoo. With the likes of Sony and Microsoft, it's providing a valuable public service by demonstrating the inherent customer-hostility of DRM so publicly and obviously. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge can publish all the white papers they want, but nothing can turn customers against DRM as quickly as seeing things that they've purchased become unpurchased.

I myself am one of the affected customers. But I only bought a single album off Yahoo Music for the review I wrote, so the Post covered the expense, and I re-ripped it to MP3 format so long ago that I can't even remember its artist or title. What about you: Did you buy anything from Yahoo Music? Or do your usage-restricted downloads come from some other store that has not yet shut off its DRM machinery? (That includes Apple's iTunes Store, which -- thanks to what looks like the intransigence of a few big record labels -- may wind up as the last refuge of music DRM.)

Update: Yahoo now says it will offer coupons for its Rhapsody store, good for the purchase of DRM-free copies of old Yahoo Music downloads; if you're angry enough, it seems you can ask for a refund instead. See this paragraph from its FAQ file on the transition:

For any consumers that have problems with their DRM licenses after the store closes, our customer care group will provide coupons to the Rhapsody MP3 store so they can purchase an equivalent collection of MP3s. If any users have serious problems with this arrangement, we will provide refunds to them through our customer care service. This offer will remain open until December 31st, 2008.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 25, 2008; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  Music  
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