Wal-Mart has reversed last month's decision to shut down its digital rights management servers, a move that would have forced customers of the company's online music store to transfer their purchases to CDs in order to keep playing the tracks on a PC.
In a customer e-mail, Wal-Mart said the reversal followed buyers' feedback. "What this means to you is that our existing service continues and there is no action required on your part," according to the e-mail posted on the tech-enthusiast site Engadget.
Wal-Mart's original plans would have made its DRM-protected tracks difficult to play on a PC, unless the music was first burned to a CD. Such a requirement would have been a hardship for people who bought a lot of music from the discount store.
Wal-Mart is in the process of joining other companies that sell music on the Web, such as Amazon.com, RealNetworks-owned Rhapsody, and Best Buy, in selling DRM-free music. Such MP3 files can be played on any device or PC. Wal-Mart's DRM-protected tunes can only be played on Windows PCs and portable music players that support Microsoft's Windows Media Audio files.
Wal-Mart, however, seemed to hedge on how long its DRM servers would remain on, saying it would keep the machines running "for the present time."
"While our customer support team is available to assist you with any issues, we continue to recommend that you back up your songs by burning them to a recordable audio CD," Wal-Mart told its customers. "By backing up your songs, you [ensure] access to them from any personal computer at any time in the future."
Wal-Mart is not the only music seller to run into trouble when shutting down its DRM servers. Yahoo got lots of flack on the Web this year when it said it would take down its servers after pulling the plug on its online music store. The portal, however, eased concerns by agreeing to give customers coupons to replace the tracks they bought through Rhapsody.
With CD sales falling and illegal file-sharing rampant on the Web, the record industry is rethinking its approach toward online music. Universal Music Group in August, for example, followed other record companies in saying that it would sell DRM-free music, which studios hope will encourage music lovers to buy more tracks legally. Universal plans to sell DRM-free tunes at least until January, before deciding whether to offer such tracks permanently. Other record companies selling DRM-free tunes include EMI Music and Sony.
Among retailers, the largest music seller, Apple, has yet to drop DRM from the tracks it sells on iTunes. The copyright protection technology makes it difficult to play iTunes-purchased music on portable devices other than Apple's iPod and iPhone.