Microsoft to end support for MSN Music DRM

As of August 31 of this year, Microsoft's "Plays for Sure" technology -- once codenamed Janus -- will no longer play for sure -- unless, that is, users play back the tunes on the same computers and OS forever.

In a move that's come under concerted attack by users ranging from anti-DRM music bloggers to Linux fans, Microsoft has disclosed plans to stop providing authorization keys for songs downloaded from the old MSN Music service.

In an e-mail Tuesday, Microsoft told customers of the former MSN Music -- which was shut down and replaced by Zune Markeplace in 2006 -- that as of August 31, 2008 support will stop for "the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased on MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers."


Many users are expressing their displeasure, including someone who offered an online definition of Janus as a Roman god "depicted with two faces on opposite sides of his head."

Although the music will continue to play on computers that have been authorized by that date, users will no longer be able to transfer tunes to any other machine, or even to play them on the same PC if they change operating systems, including upgrading from Windows XP to Windows Vista.

Up to now, Plays For Sure DRM technology has allowed ex-MSN Music subscribers to switch authorization to new machines and OS, so long as they keep abiding by a previously imposed limit of five computers. But as of September, the MSN Music approval servers will fade into history, and users will need to stick with the machines and OS they've chosen by then.

The anti-DRM crowd is having a field day lambasting Plays for Sure and other DRM technology. "So does anybody now trust Plays for Sure? I doubt it. This is yet another blunder by the music industry in their ever short-sighted attack on the legitimate consumer. Music has become obsolete before and it will again, but the machine to allow you to play it still exists," wrote Bob Cherry, a blogger for Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News Network.

"When DRM entered the picture, a whole new Pandora's Box was opened. While copyrights may expire and music may some day become free again, the DRM attached to the music may make it unavailable -- and for the first time in history, DRM may actually kill the music because it won't be available for future generations to enjoy," Cherry predicted.

"Remember a few years back when Microsoft launched a new type of DRM under the name 'Plays for Sure?' The idea was to create a standard DRM that a bunch of different online music download stores could use, and which makers of digital music devices could build for -- except, like any DRM, it had its problems. And, like any DRM, its purpose was to take away features, not add them," according to TechDirt blogger Mike Masnick.

"Yet, because Microsoft was behind it, many people assumed that at least Microsoft would keep supporting it. Well, you've now learned your lesson. Plays for Sure was so bad that Microsoft didn't even use it for its own Zune digital media device. Along with that, Microsoft shut down its failed online music store, and now for the kicker, it's telling anyone who was suckered into buying that DRM'd content that it's about to nuke the DRM approval servers that let you transfer the music to new machines."

On a Linux messaging board where Masnick's blog was reposted, users tacked on definitions for both Janus -- a two-faced Roman god -- along with Janus without the "J."

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