June 15, 2024

Plenty of Blame to Go Around in Yahoo Music Shutdown

People have been heaping blame on Yahoo after it announced plans to shut down its Yahoo Music Store DRM servers on September 30. The practical effect of the shutdown is to make music purchased at the store unusable after a while.

Though savvy customers tended to avoid buying music in forms like this, where a company had to keep some distant servers running to keep the purchased music alive, those customers who did buy – taking reassurances from Yahoo and music industry at face value – are rightly angry. In the face of similar anger, Microsoft backtracked on plans to shutter its DRM servers. It looks like Yahoo will stay the course.

Yahoo deserves blame here, but let’s not forget who else contributed to this mess. Start with the record companies for pushing this kind of DRM, and the DRM agenda generally, despite the ample evidence that it would inconvenience paying customers without stopping infringement.

Even leaving aside past mistakes, copyright owners could step in now to help users, either by enticing Yahoo to keep its servers running, or by helping Yahoo create and distribute software that translates the music into a usable form. If I were a Yahoo Music customer, I would be complaining to the copyright owners now, and asking them to step in and stand behind their product.

Finally, let’s not forget the role of Congress. The knowledge of how to jailbreak Yahoo Music tracks and transform them into a stable, usable form exists and could easily be packaged in software form. But Congress made it illegal to circumvent Yahoo’s DRM, even to enable noninfringing use of a legitimately purchased song. And they made it illegal to distribute certain software tools to enable those uses. If Congress had paid more attention to consumer interests in drafting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or if it had passed any of the remedial legislation offered since the DMCA took effect, then the market could solve this Yahoo problem all on its own. If I were a Yahoo Music customer, I would be complaining to Congress now, and asking them to stop blocking consumer-friendly technologies.

And needless to say, I wouldn’t be buying DRM-encumbered songs any more.

UPDATE (July 29, 2008): Yahoo has now done the right thing, offering to give refunds or unencumbered MP3s to the stranded customers. I wonder how much this is costing Yahoo.


  1. Alan H, what is it with unsympathetic people like you who seem to believe that “caveat emptor” is a great moral principle? 😛

  2. There is enough blame to go around……….but Yahoo can take a large part of the blame.

  3. If people are dumb enough to buy DRM music then they deserve what they get. I for one NEVER have and never will purchase ANYTHING with DRM on it. If I buy it I have the right to use it for MY personal use. I don’t pay the fat cats to keep me from using what I legally purchase. This problem with Yahoo is the reason I refuse to use their music player, I stick with the one that they bought out from under me. NO DRM anywhere. DRM NO WAY! Yahoo can stick it in their vault and sit on it, along with the sheep they sheered!

  4. Re: iTunes biggest music retailer

    I had thought that was a mistake (thought it was Wal-Mart), but, checking it, I found that you were correct. http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2008/04/03itunes.html claims the “NPD Group’s MusicWatch survey” says iTunes sold more music than Wal-Mart in Jan & Feb 2008.



  5. Is jailbreak now a generic term for removal of TPMs?

  6. supercat says

    //I wonder how much this is costing Yahoo.//

    Fair question, though even if Yahoo wasn’t willing to pay it might be in the music companies’ interest to put up the money themselves.

    I never bought music from Yahoo, so I haven’t read their fine print, but unless it explicitly denies any promise of being able to move music from one machine to another it could be argued that Yahoo’s failure to allow people to access their music in the way they paid for would give purchasers the right to access their music by whatever means is necessary to do so. That would be something the music companies definitely don’t want to see happen.

  7. Rob Towns says

    Music labels do not have a right to their music. Once they release to the public, in the form of the first transaction, they loose all “ownership right.” Think about it from this perspective: all music really is organized vibrations of the air which enters into your eardrum and your brain processes it. So really people buying cd’s, etc, are paying money for vibrations in the air. Ridiculous. Get over ownership, especially when it is in digital form. If that bothers you, get into a different crareer….. http://www.gothamtechminute.blogspot.com

  8. It’s interesting that there is not a single comment on this story about how Apple, using DRM, is the largest retailer of music in the world. Ideas guys?

  9. The news post I read on this topic reported that Yahoo were offering a choice of either a refund or an unencumbered MP3 to their customers affected by the shutdown.

    While I have never purchased anything from Yahoo Music (and I detest DRM in general), this kind of offer strikes me as the sort of thing to be encouraged, not derided.

  10. I’m willing to cut the users a of DRM encumbered music a break and hope enough folks gripe that some changes get made.

    My first exposure to DRM was when I tried to purchase electronic versions of some Mindshare books some 7 years ago. In my case, I had a dual processor system and their DRM software wouldn’t let me read the book, depending on what processor the reader was running from. They did allow me to print books off (but if you’ve seen a mindshare book of late, it’s cheaper to just buy another book!) which is more than can be said for Yahoo music.

    Unfortunately it takes getting burned. For those not dealing with this stuff regularly, these are hard concepts.

  11. HAHA! Losers! You got exactly what you deserve!

    This is what you get for doing business with the music mafia. The music industry, even now, loves pissing on its customers, insisting that their distributors like Yahoo use unstable DRM that will only last a few years. Another flaw with DRM is that it costs money to operate long after you have made your sale.


    I will never have to worry about being burnt like that since I haven’t let the music industry have any of my money since about the time napster came out.

    Remember when Sony intentionally infected it’s customers computers with a trojan?

    Haven’t people learned that if you do business with the record industry, you will be punished… by the record industry?

    The RIAA feels that if you rip your own cd that you purchased to iTunes, you are a thief. Crazy, right? Now being called a thief by them doesn’t seem to be as big a deal.

    The RIAA didn’t invent fair use, it was forced on them by the government, and if it were up to them, they would nickel and dime you to death for every instance of you playing a song, and they would make you like it.

    It’s very hard to feel bad about “stealing” music when you look at just how much the RIAA sucks.

  12. John Millington says

    Even if Congress itself won’t listen, this problem (and especially the fact that it has moved from a theoretical risk to reality) should be mentioned to the Librarian of Congress the next time they’re making exemptions.

    But of course the real fix is for Congress to repeal 1201.

    BTW, Ben Sauer is spot-on. If the primary purpose of Yahoo’s letter is to traffick in information about how to circumvent a technological measures that limits access, then any of the copyright holders whose works are involved, would have standing to sue Yahoo over that. Naturally, none of them would really _want_ to, though.

  13. I think this is one of those times the sacrifices of the few can be beneficial to the greater community. It’s sad to see someone get the short end, but the coffin needs more nails.

    Or…It’s more free advertising for the copyright consortia’s “Piracy, the better choiceâ„¢” campaign*

    *As detailed by Charlie Demerjian at The Inquirer

  14. Ben Sauer says

    Of course the DRM here isn’t effective so technically the DMCA shouldn’t apply, but in the very letter yahoo sent out they tell people how to break it. Write it to an audio cd/ rip the cd. Laying aside my first clause, the letter is a DMCA violation.

  15. Michael Donnelly says

    Bad product is bad. What else can be said?

    Maybe enough people will feel they were misled on what they were buying and do something about it.

  16. Remember how corrupt CDs couldn’t use the “Compact Disk Digital Audio” logo? Look for the logo, know you can play the CD on all your devices.

    Now DRM-free is becoming a brand.

    Maybe we need a DRM-free logo for online music stores and services. Some non-profit could hold the trademark, and license it for $1 to sources of DRM-free music.

  17. Tony Lauck says

    It does not disturb me in the least if anyone who has purchased DRM encumbered music were to lose access. If there are a sufficient number of victims it will create political pressure to change the laws. It will also make a class action lawsuit likely.

  18. “Yahoo deserves blame here, but let’s not forget who else contributed to this mess….”

    Sorry to be the a**hole/contrarian here, but notably absent from the list of people responsible: the idiotic consumers who willing bought this DRM infected slime.

    DRM will only die when the consumer votes with his wallet. These cash-laden cows who plunked down their $$$ for DRM only encouraged the cigar-chomping SL500 convertible driving fatcats (hey I live in Santa Monica, CA – ground zero for this crap – this isn’t a fantasy, I see it every day) to continue the use of DRM.

    OK cows…. convert your files (DMCA be damned) and NEVER do that again. Shun DRM. Otherwise I’ll roll up a newspaper and whack you across the nose.


  19. Ultimately, it is the fault of Congress the DMCA was passed. Unfortunately, using Congress as a whipping boy misses the greater issue that our Congressional representatives no longer stand-up for the public trust, but have merely become lackeys of corporate interests.

    To follow-up a bit on Crosbie’s remarks. One can make the case that we are not stealing from the content producers, but that the content producers are actually stealing from us by changing the law to make legal activities illegal. For example, I can read a book anytime and anywhere, but the use of DRM technologies prevents me, in many cases, from utilizing content as I wish. My ability to freely use the content has been “stolen”.

  20. There are another bunch of people who believe that they should retain ownership rights to digital information in another’s possession.

    These are the would be owners of ‘personal data’. They believe that even after they have supplied personal details to someone, in the course of a transaction say, that the other party does not own that information, and must delete, update, return, protect, or perform any other action upon it at the owner’s instruction.

    I don’t think it is just record labels who have been brainwashed by copyright into believing that they can own information after they have parted with it, it is also private individuals who have the same delusion.

    I look forward to abortive attempts to create the equivalent ‘ownership protections’ to personal data, as publishers have to their publications. We may well see a DRM equivalent for personal data.

    It’s fine to require organisations to adhere to their stated privacy policies and for their reputations to suffer if they betray their customers’ confidence, but we really do need to start educating people about the fundamental laws of information.