As one of the few people who actually purchased music from Microsoft's long-dead MSN Music service, I received the following email this week (the pertinent bits are bolded for emphasis):

MSN Music is constantly striving to provide you, our user, with the most compelling music experience that we can. We want to tell you about an upcoming change to our support service to ensure you have a seamless experience with the music you've downloaded from MSN Music.

As you may recall from a November 14, 2006 mail, we entered into a new partnership for music downloads. The Zune Marketplace can be accessed directly from any MSN Music artist page and offers users thousands of tracks for users to download individually or with a season pass subscription. You can still come to MSN Music to find all the latest news and previews of your favorite artists and songs, but in order to buy music, we'll take you to our partners at the Zune Marketplace.

With the launch of our partnership with Zune Marketplace, we closed the MSN Music store and stopped selling music directly from MSN Music. However, we have continued to offer assistance and support for existing songs that you've purchased from MSN Music, including help to transfer songs that you've purchased to additional computers and MSN Music compatible devices.

I am writing to let you know that as of August 31, 2008, Microsoft will change the level of support to be offered for music purchased directly from MSN Music prior to November 14, 2006. As of August 31, 2008, we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers. License keys already obtained as of August 31, 2008 will continue to allow you to listen to songs on all the computers that you previously authorized for service.

We wanted to send out this notification well in advance to remind you to backup your music and to provide you sufficient time to confirm license keys for the songs you've purchased from MSN Music.

This is also a good time to remind you that you can back up and secure your music by burning your purchased songs and playlists to CD. With Windows Media Player, you can burn your own Audio CDs from the music stored in your library. Complete instructions for this can be found at MSN Music online help.

Please take this opportunity to make sure you have the licenses you need to access your music. As a friendly reminder, please remember that the MSN Music service allows you to authorize up to 5 computers for songs purchased from MSN Music. You must have licenses for the songs on each authorized computer, in order to be able to play the songs successfully. If you have already played a given song on a computer, then you have successfully obtained the license key for that song. MSN Music keys do not expire. If you intend to transfer a previously downloaded song to a new computer (or an existing computer with a new operating system, such as an upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista) within the maximum allowed limit of 5 computers, please do so before August 31, 2008. You will need to obtain a license key for each of your songs downloaded from MSN Music on any new computer, and you must do so before August 31, 2008. If you attempt to transfer your songs to additional computers after August 31, 2008, those songs will not successfully play.

If you have additional questions about this process or any other questions about playing your music, please visit MSN Music online help for more information or feel free to contact our Technical Support representatives for assistance, prior to the August 31, 2007 date.   

I'd like to personally thank you for your continued support of MSN Music and encourage you to send us your feedback and suggestions about how we can continue to improve the MSN Music experience.

Sincerely,
Rob Bennett
General Manager, MSN Entertainment & Video Services

This has generated a lot of controversy, mostly, I've noticed, from those who never purchased music from MSN Music. But this event does highlight one of the many problems with DRM-encoded content: If the distributor of that content stops providing the online authorization needed to "unlock" it, that content becomes worthless.

It would be disingenuous for almost anyone to now state that they never saw this coming. On the other hand, I think Microsoft should keep its license key authorization servers open for a more reasonable amount of time than 21 months. Say, maybe 10 years.

Taken to the next level, Microsoft should also allow MSN Music customers to re-download everything they purchased at MSN Music from Zune Marketplace, for free. Or electronically switch over the authorization of MSN Music tracks to Zune Marketplace. Either way.

That's just my opinion.

But what about all that content that I purchased from MSN Music? Surely I'm concerned about the obsolescence of that music, right? No, I'm not. Because one of the nice things about MSN Music was that they offered incredibly high-quality digital files for the day. (160 Kbps to 256 Kbps, and this was back in 2005.) And as I so often advised people to do at the time, I always burned those purchased tracks to CD and then ripped them back in an unprotected MP3 format, and I did so immediately after purchase. In fact, I no longer maintain the digital originals. I don't need to.

Anyway, people can get all excited about this if they want. And certainly, Microsoft should have handled it better (and still can). But this is what DRM is all about, people: Protecting the rights of content providers, not consumers. By following my own advice (i.e. proactively protecting my own rights), my music collection is just fine. I'm guessing that most of the rest of you complaining about this issue to me via email never once purchased a track from MSN Music anyway.

And that's a shame. It was a nice service. It really was.