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EFF: Microsoft betrayed MSN Music customers

Advocacy group sends letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer advising him to issue refunds after doing away with DRM-licensing servers.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation says that Microsoft has "betrayed" MSN Music customers and wants the company to make things right by issuing an apology, refunds, and eliminate digital rights management technology from the Zune music player.

Microsoft stirred some controversy last week by announcing that it would no longer issue DRM keys for defunct MSN Music after August 31. This effectively will prevent former customers from transferring their songs to new devices after the deadline. Customers could potentially lose their music if they get a new computer or if the hard drive crashes on their current one.

EFF, an advocacy group for Internet users, said in a statement that it sent a letter to Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer on Tuesday outlining steps the company should take, such as issuing refunds and launching a publicity campaign to educate former MSN Music customers about their options.

"MSN Music customers trusted Microsoft when it said that this was a safe way to buy music, and that trust has been betrayed," Corynne McSherry, an EFF attorney, said in a statement. "If Microsoft is prepared to treat MSN Music customers like this, is there any reason to suppose that future customers won't get the same treatment?"

In an interview last week with CNET, Microsoft's Rob Bennett said that continuing to support the DRM keys was impractical, that the issue only affects a small number of people, and focusing exclusively on Zune was the best way to go. He also noted that it wasn't Microsoft's decision to wrap music into digital rights management.

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment.

Microsoft has suggested that customers should back up their music libraries by burning them to CDs; this way, they can always transfer them to a new computer.

"Microsoft is asking its customers to spend more time, labor, and money to make degraded copies of music that was purchased in good faith," said EFF Executive Director Shari Steele.

Like many in the blogosphere, EFF said the situation proves that DRM doesn't work.

"With MSN Music, Microsoft has admitted just how expensive, clumsy, and unfair DRM is," McSherry said in the statement. "It's time for Microsoft to reject this sloppy technology, and for customers to demand something better."