Services & Software

EFF: Yahoo Music should compensate customers

Yahoo Music comes under criticism for deciding to stop supporting DRM keys. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says Yahoo should have learned from Microsoft's mistakes.

Yahoo Music is telling customers that it won't allow users who bought songs from the service to transfer them to new devices or PCs after September 30.

The announcement on Thursday has stunned the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a watchdog group for Internet users. Surely, Yahoo should have learned something from the MSN debacle. Just a month ago, Microsoft reversed a decision to stop releasing authorization keys for the copy protections it placed on songs, and will issue keys for three more years.

"Some people think they can use music wrapped in digital rights management just like they do a CD," Corynne McSherry, an attorney with EFF, told CNET News. "This should teach everyone that you can't."

To those opposed to DRM, this is but the latest example of how buying copy-protected music means that a label or music service can come in and snatch it away. Without the DRM keys, an owner is helpless to transfer songs to new devices. An owner can burn songs to a CD, as Yahoo has been telling customers to do for six months, but they then risk losing some sound quality when they rerip the music.

In explaining how Yahoo came to its decision, Michael Spiegelman, Yahoo's senior director of music, argued many of the same points that Microsoft made.

•  Microsoft said consumers would benefit by being moved to a new, superior service: Zune's Marketplace. Yahoo is suggesting customers move to RealNetworks' Rhapsody.

•  Microsoft said that the issue affects a small number of people. Spiegelman used the term "small percentage." (Neither company disclosed exactly how many people would be affected.)

•  Microsoft said that copy-protection schemes were forced down its throat by the major recording companies. Yahoo's Spiegelman says the company has realized "the time for DRM-protected tracks has passed."

But here's what is different about Yahoo's decision. While Microsoft chose to delay the eventual withdrawing of support, Yahoo says it decided to deal with it sooner rather than later.

"We definitely tracked the (MSN) situation closely," Spiegelman said. "We found (the decision to continue supporting DRM keys for three more years) just prolongs the pain. It keeps the DRM question going for years. We want to help people make the transition now."

Fine, says EFF. Yahoo has admitted that it made a mistake with DRM. But why is the company making customers pay for its error in judgment?

"This isn't just about withdrawing support," McSherry said. "It's about not compensating customers. This is pretty outrageous."

She called on Yahoo to apologize to customers and either replace their music with open MP3s or issue refunds.