Microsoft blinked on its way to terminating the future capability to play music purchased from the defunct MSN Music store. On 31-Aug-08, The company had planned to pull the plug on its authorization servers, the back-end systems that are required for music owners to change the set of machines on which their purchased music is allowed to play. Computers that were already authorized to play music would still be able to play the music, however; Microsoft wasn’t planning to use what’s called “self-help” and disable existing rights and authorizations. (See “Thank You for Not Playing: Microsoft Expires DRMed Music,” 2008-04-30.)
The company backpedaled a few weeks ago and said that it will keep its authorization systems running until at least the end of 2011. Microsoft faced a storm of media and user criticism over the move, which was nearly the worst-case scenario for those who oppose restrictive digital rights management. (The worst case is when all music playing rights would expire, not just the right of transfer and authorization.)
It was clear to observers that Microsoft could also have faced class-action lawsuits, given the large number of purchasers, the lack of alternatives (excepting ripping and burning discs, degrading the music quality), and the unilateral action.
Judges are increasingly handing down negative judgments and fines against the music industry trade group RIAA. Microsoft had to view the downside to its move to save most likely a few hundred thousand dollars a year against millions in defending itself and tens of millions if they lost a multi-year lawsuit.