Microsoft demonstrates why DRM is bad for consumers

Microsoft have this week demonstrated the dangers of buying into DRM-crippled systems by announcing that their unloved software PlaysForSure (oh the irony) will be switched off on 31 August. After this date, content encumbered by the system will still play, but it will become locked to a single computer or device. You will no longer be able to back up the files you’ve bought, move them to a different device, or even upgrade the operating system of the computer they’re on without losing access to them forever. And if that happens, don’t think Microsoft will send you a refund. It’s all in the small print, apparently.

Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) is bad for consumers because it deprives you of control over how – or even whether – you can use the digital products you buy.

While it’s not news that Microsoft has treated its customers with contempt, their household name is helping to carry concern on the issue from geek circles into the mainstream. A personal example illustrates the point: only two weeks ago a friend asked me to recommend a peer-to-peer file sharing app so she could get hold of unencrypted music. She was sick of paying for tracks only to find they wouldn’t work the way she expected.

I’m quite happy to pay for tracks. I want the artists to get paid for me purchasing a copy. But if I end up not being able to, for example, play that track on my mp3 player (because I happen to have one that won’t play DRM files) or burn to a CD (because Microsoft won’t let me) then I’m going to resort to other means.

I could always just buy the CD of course… but that’s old-fashioned ;o) I like the whole digital music thing, I like that it’s immediate and takes up no physical space, but currently it doesn’t serve my needs – unless I get hold of it illegally.

To my mind, there can be no more powerful demonstration of the commercial folly of DRM. Record labels, software companies and film distributors take note: putting obstacles in the way of your customers is bad for business. Customers spend more on products that are the easy to buy and use. The more difficult you make things for them, the less they’ll buy.

Do you have a tale of DRM frustration to tell? Are you going to lose out when PlaysForSure stops playing? Where do you buy your DRM-free tracks from? Hit the “Comments” link and share your thoughts.

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