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Wal-Mart Latest Music Store to Deactivate DRM

Stop me if you've read this before, but yet another music-download site is shutting down its "digital rights management" machinery, leaving customers with no way to play these songs on a new computer -- or, if they upgrade their operating system, on their existing PC.

This time, the offender is Wal-Mart. But unlike such earlier vendors of DRM-ed music files as Sony, Microsoft and Yahoo, Wal-Mart is giving its customers far less notice. As the company explained in an e-mail sent to customers (reproduced at the Boing Boing blog), the music will start to die in less than two weeks:

Beginning October 9, we will no longer be able to assist with digital rights management issues for protected WMA files purchased from If you do not back up your files before this date, you will no longer be able to transfer your songs to other computers or access your songs after changing or reinstalling your operating system or in the event of a system crash. Your music and video collections will still play on the originally authorized computer.

Wal-Mart provided a little more context in a post on its own blog, which reiterated the suggestion offered in the original e-mail: Burn your purchases to an audio CD now, then pop that CD right back into your computer and copy its contents in an un-"protected" format, such as MP3 (the format that Wal-Mart's site has been offering songs in since last August).

I can't say I'm remotely surprised by any of this, aside from the speed of Wal-Mart's DRM shutdown. But if you're going to deprive people of something they thought they own -- hey, you might as well get it over with as quickly as possible. Rip that band-aid right off!

The good news here is that we're almost out of DRMed music-download stores. Napster and Rhapsody now sell only MP3 downloads but still have DRM servers up for older purchases. And, of course, Apple's iTunes still offers about half of its catalog only in DRMed, non-"iTunes Plus" form -- avoid that half of its inventory and buy those songs off a DRM-free store like Amazon's MP3 site instead.

Question is, which of these sites will be the next to dismantle its DRM machinery? And which video-download site will follow suit -- leaving its customers without any recourse, since video DRM has almost never allowed you to burn a movie to DVD? Post your guesses in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 30, 2008; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes , Music  
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Wal-Mart’s suggestion for customers to burn their digital music to a cd defeats the whole purpose behind purchasing digital music online. And, I’m sure, that Wal-Mart neglected to tell its customers that their music would only have a life-span equivalent to their next hard-drive crash or computer replacement.

Our firm has been working to put a stake through the heart of DRM for many years now, and this is another prime example of how the burden of DRM actually rests entirely on the shoulders of honest, innocent consumers who tried to do the right thing by buying music legally.
Alan Himmelfarb

Posted by: Alan Himmelfarb | September 30, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Wow.... I guess I'm really glad I never bought any MP3's from anyone. I guess I'll be buying CD's for a long time to come...

Posted by: Steve | September 30, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Anybody know if the music download sites rip their MP3s from standard CDs? Or do they have access to the master tapes (original or copies)?

I'd like to see download sites sell lossless files, preferably coded in FLAC or another open-source format. Something that won't sound like crap when I send it from my computer to my home stereo.

Posted by: SSMD | September 30, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

This is all just one gigantic shell game, isn't it.
And they wonder why so many still steal music.

Posted by: Greg | September 30, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

There's no difference between a CD and non-DRM digital music files. That is, unless some dishonest company like Sony puts a rootkit on the CD you're buying.

Posted by: Jacob J | September 30, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Alan Himmelfarb,
While your at it, go after blank CD manufactorers as well, since the data on burned CD's only last a few years. I found this out the hard way myself. I havn't seen any kind of discosure anywhere on any label of a bought spool of blank CD's by any manufacturer. This is something *most* music lovers don't know about. You'd think they'd care about their customers data. Sigh!!

Posted by: Mathew | September 30, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

not necessarily true jacob. Most digital music files are highly compressed. CD is not compressed.

Only lossless codecs are, although still compressed, identical to the original CD in audio quality.

128-bit MP3s are the digital music ghetto. If someone 'rented' music using Wal-Mart, Yahoo! Music, MSN Music or any of those using Microsoft's PlaysForSure scheme should have known what they were getting into.

This is just subscribers eviction notice.

Posted by: wayde | September 30, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I guess I'll keep that anolog line-in jack around a while I can just play the music on the authorized machine and record it through my sound card to my hearts content!!! Just like we used to with cassette tapes and records...The funny thing is that I will still end up with a great digital copy (from the anolog source) of the song with no nasty DRM in it to muck me up!

Posted by: scott | September 30, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

That is the last straw. I have tried to buy legal music online but it is so cumbersome and expensive. Now I can't even keep my own tracks without backing them up on a hard copy? I'm going back to illegal downloads.

Posted by: I tried | September 30, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Boy, all this complicated stuff. For me, it's just easier to get my music from "other" sites.

Posted by: Alex | September 30, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Steve, the MP3 format doesnt use DRM at all.

Walmart's files were most likely in protected WMA format.

If you want high quality files that are unprotected and DRM-FREE, go to Amazon MP3 on 320kbps sound quality, cheaper than iTunes in many cases, and the files will never "expire."

Posted by: Jonathan | September 30, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Can you imagine?
This is like buying a CD from Wal-mart and then them telling you that they want it back so you better make a copy before you give it back.Seriously?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 30, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I remember the days of records, eight track and cassette tape. I think we need to embrace the technology changes and not bash corporation in the market place. There probably is something better coming. I know of one box at D L SERVICES INC. that will allow DVD, music, video, to be copied from many types of media.

Posted by: manager2 | September 30, 2008 7:44 PM | Report abuse

The option of buying MP3's from (and I'm guessing many other sites) does not apply outside the U.S.

So here in Australia we are stuck with a much reduced non-DRM catalogue on I-Tunes, eMusic with whatver I want to download "not available in your country" , or the "other" sites if i want music that i can play whenever and wherever i want and that will not die one day when the company thinks they can't bleed any more cash from me.

Posted by: Stephen | September 30, 2008 8:50 PM | Report abuse

The sad part is that all of this was predicted at the time these lame-brained DRM schemes were introduced. Thankfully, soon the case will be entirely closed on DRM in the music industry. Now we've got to make sure DRM in the movie/video and games industries follows the same path to oblivion as it has in the music industry.

Posted by: Derek | October 1, 2008 12:59 AM | Report abuse is the best legal source of music, offering customers the choice of either DRM-free MP3s, or the superior sound quality of CDs.

I prefer music CDs, and on, most of them are inexpensive.

Posted by: JohnJ | October 1, 2008 10:35 AM | Report abuse

can you out amazon mp3's on an iphone?

Posted by: lex | October 1, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: DLD | October 1, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Amazon has the best DRM-free music store. Most of the songs are high quality MP3 files. The only problem is that it's a bit crude in it's layout compared to iTunes.

Posted by: Jab00 | October 1, 2008 11:28 PM | Report abuse

I have refused to steal music, and have not trusted the system until now. Therefore, I have no downloaded music. Poor me. Now, things are changing. Soon I will feel safe buying music online (probably could right now, I'm just being over cautious and cheap). I expect soon enough to have bought my last CD.

Posted by: tonystep | October 2, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

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