Microsoft Wants Music DRM Renaissance

Posted in DRM, Microsoft at 8:28 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Broken CD
Defective, by design, by Microsoft

“We’ve had DRM in Windows for years. The most common format of music on an iPod is “stolen”.”

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO

QUITE A FEW ARTICLES about this have been circulating, so it’s probably worth bringing up the core of the news:

Microsoft yesterday unveiled its MSN Mobile Music service – and a surprise return to digital rights management (DRM).

As expected, there is some strong critique already:

While this is just a relatively small service offered only in the UK, it’s the perfect example of why Microsoft can’t get it right when it comes to competing with Apple’s iTunes Music Store. The key to success is offering a consistent user experience, with one single store. It doesn’t make sense to have each national Microsoft branch to start its own music service, with independent pricing and restrictive DRM schemes. Microsoft is laying off 5000 people, and looking for other means to cut costs?

I say, quit this pointless music store before it’s even open, and because of this saving, maybe a few more folk can keep their jobs. I’d say, get your priorities straight.

Microsoft seems somewhat out of touch because, as pointed out here, music DRM is on its way to the grave.

Last week’s agreement between Apple and the major record companies to eliminate DRM (copy protection) in iTunes songs marks the effective end of DRM for recorded music. The major online music stores are now all DRM-free, and CDs still lack DRM, so consumers who acquire music will now expect it without DRM. That’s a sensible result, given the incompatibility and other problems caused by DRM, and it’s a good sign that the record companies are ready to retreat from DRM and get on with the job of reinventing themselves for the digital world.

In the movie world, DRM for stored content may also be in trouble. On DVDs, the CSS DRM scheme has long been a dead letter, technologically speaking. The Blu-ray scheme is better, but if Blu-ray doesn’t catch on, this doesn’t matter.

Why is Microsoft so desperate to have DRM? Platform lock-in is likely to be among the causes. But that’s another story which we’ll revisit in the future. Comes vs Microsoft exhibits, for example, show that Bill Gates intended to also use “security as a lock-in.”

“We’ve been very focused on producing a DRM system. [...] We think DRM is important”

Robbie Bach, Microsoft President

“DRM is the future.”

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO

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  1. Renan said,

    January 24, 2009 at 9:21 pm


    As always, Microsoft brings a bad idea back from the deathbed.

    Until all companies agree to completely GIVE UP on any and all forms of DRM, I will keep “stealing” music (since breaking DRM is a crime, in any case I would be an “intellectual property thief”, whatever that means).

  2. aeshna23 said,

    January 24, 2009 at 10:27 pm


    It’s not just MSN Mobile Music. It’s also Windows 7. I’ve been using Windows 7 recently to understand the ways of the enemy. In fact, I’m using now. Even given my dislike for Microsoft, I was shocked to find out that the Rip Music settings under Windows Media Player include “Copy Protect Music”–an option that only inconveniences the customer. And the atrocious Windows Media Center pushes that option. I don’t think I’m paranoid to believe that the only reason to introduce such a customer unfriendly feature is to make it mandatory.

    What I think gets lost in conversations about Windows 7 is one key fact: even if Windows 7 were to be the perfect OS from the Microsoft perspective and all the hardwire drivers and eye candy worked perfectly, Windows 7 would still be bad deal for the customer.

  3. The Mad Hatter said,

    January 24, 2009 at 10:31 pm


    Microsoft doesn’t understand who their customer is, and that’s a problem. The end user, who is their true customer, has no interest in DRM. Rather than DRM being a feature, it’s a dis-incentive to use Windows.

  4. Mike Brown said,

    January 24, 2009 at 11:56 pm


    The question and answer session in the PcPro article is proof positive – just in case anybody needed any more – that Microsoft’s nose dive into the compost is all but assured. I mean, just read this!:

    Q: If I buy these songs on your service – and they’re locked to my phone – what happens when I upgrade my phone in six months’ time?

    A: Well, I think you know the answer to that.

    Q: Can you really expect people to buy music that’s locked to a device they upgrade every 12 to 18 months?

    A: I didn’t realise phones were churning that quickly in the marketplace these days

    In short, not only does Microsoft’s DRM tie the music that you’ve just paid for to your mobile phone. When you upgrade that phone – at the end of your contract, for example – you’ll have to put your hand in your pocket *again* if you want to carry on listening to that music!

    Just how stupid do they think people are?

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 25, 2009 at 4:07 am


    Microsoft doesn’t understand who their customer is, and that’s a problem.

    They actually treat OEMs and Hollywood as their customers. Users just don’t have much choice. These are not the customers.

    About 80% of the Windows licences are sold to OEMs, not the users. They are being tied to PCs.

  6. amd-linux said,

    January 25, 2009 at 4:53 am


    “They actually treat OEMs and Hollywood as their customers. Users just don’t have much choice. These are not the customers.”

    And forcing the crap that results from this down their customers’ throats will (or already has, in the case of Vista) in a boycott of consumers – sooner or later, everybody, incl. John Doe knows that the Windows flag sticker on a PC stands for something bad.

    I love to see how they pull themselves apart in slow motion. How incredibly stupid can a CEO be? How incredible stupid can shareholders be that tolerate a CEO like Ballmer who so obviously lost touch to the real world like Comical Ali? ( http://www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com/ in case you forgot who he was).

    Well, folks, please lean back, watch, relax and pass along the popcorn.

  7. amd-linux said,

    January 25, 2009 at 4:58 am


    And just to snafu Ballmer’s sunday even more:


    ” The Veneto Region, around the Italian city of Venice, has decided to move to open source software and open standards, the Italian Internet news site Zeus reports. “

  8. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 25, 2009 at 5:31 am


    And just to snafu Ballmer’s sunday

    I’m still preparing a post about mass-closure of services/products from Microsoft. The ‘media’ is asleep… and too bust doing ‘damage control’ for Microsoft.

  9. David Gerard said,

    January 25, 2009 at 9:55 am


    And after all my hard work!

    I suspect they did a terrible deal with the record labels (who don’t like the idea of being locked into Microsoft any more than they’re enjoying being locked into Apple) and that’s why the MSN UK guy knows he’s selling a complete turd and is past the point of despair.

    The only way they could have made it worse would have been to use the Zune branding.

    ps: typing this from Shiretoko (Firefox 3.1 nightlies) in Windows 7. It runs surprisingly well in a 512MB VirtualBox … if I have nothing else running on the host system. Uses power like nobody’s business, though. And, of course, it’s very pretty.

  10. The Mad Hatter said,

    January 25, 2009 at 10:54 am


    Yes, they did a deal with the labels, because Microsoft thinks that the labels are their customer. End users will vote with their wallets on this, and Microsoft will not like the results.

  11. David Gerard said,

    January 25, 2009 at 11:05 am


    I just tried playing a DivX AVI from a network share (a ripped DVD) in VLC, and got my first-ever Windows 7 blue screen! Yay!

  12. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 25, 2009 at 11:09 am


    Just don’t play MP3s. You might lose the files.


  13. David Gerard said,

    January 25, 2009 at 11:25 am


    At least they warn about the MP3 one very loudly in the release notes!

  14. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 25, 2009 at 11:28 am


    Yes, they sure warn about MP3s. Watch the quote at the top.

    Steve Ballmer warned the world that “The most common format of music on an iPod is “stolen”.”

    Was he talking about .WAV? ;-)

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