Intellectual property is, in many ways, my family's business. And over the years my mother Mary Deaton and I have had more than a few heated arguments about copyright reform. That said, my mom has been using Microsoft Windows since before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shed his diapers, and was ripping CDs to MP3 since I bought her a Rio MP3 player for Christmas with my dot-boom winnings. Since then, she bought into the system and signed up with MTV's now defunct Urge digital music service. But thanks to digital rights management, or DRM, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser is punishing her for such law-abiding ways — and charging her $14.99 a month for these "feature." Seems that in being migrated, like other Urge users, to Real's Rhapsody service, my mom lost the ability to transfer her music to her MP3 player or burn it to CD as promised. What ensued is a case study in bad customer service and the consumer-punishing idiocy that is DRM, and it's all after the jump.
I was a subscriber to Urge music service from MTV until last October, when I got an email that said Urge was closing and my membership would be transferred to Rhapsody 25. It was given no details about this membership, except that I would have 25 free songs a month. There was no mention of what would happen to my purchased music, so I assumed it would still work.
In November, I tried to play or transfer to my mp3 player some music I had purchased from Urge. Windows Media Player refused to do it because the DRM was not valid. I was unable to refresh my licenses because Urge had closed, so I went to Rhapsody, downloaded RealPlayer, asked it to refresh, and it would not do it. I looked at my account and it did not have permissions to burn CDs or transfer to my MP3 player. For $14.95 a month, I could get RealPlayer To Go, which would allow me to do this. So, I must have signed up for it, but I certainly was not successful at getting my music freed up because they seemed to have no idea my music existed as purchased music.
You know me. I was frustrated so I just gave up for now. A few months later, I saw that I was being billed $14.99 a month for this service on a credit card. However, when I went to the Rhapsody account I had set up, it did not reflect that I had a To Go account.
Finally I called them two days ago. Turns out, they never moved the DRM over to their servers because "they couldn't." Something about DRM being specific to a server and when the Urge server was shut down all of the licenses were "lost." I suggested perhaps they should have purchased the server, too. And I was also told DRM is "fragile." The tech said I should have been able to play purchased music forever, unless "something" happened. I explained to him that Urge automatically refreshed your licenses every 30 days and so when I had tried to play the music in November, it had tried to refresh and could not.,
Basically, IMHO, Rhapsody stole $311 of CDs from me, which is what I told them. They offered to credit me with $100 and I said I wanted the full value of the music I purchased. I had to go to the supervisor, the tier 2 support guy, and finally to a special support person. I said that I could not be the only one who had this problem and they acknowledge this was true. I asked why we were never sent email explaining that they knew and he said he did not know. I mentioned that by not letting us know that they would credit us for purchased music, they were 1 - stealing our music and 2 - hoping very few people who take them up on the offer.
I told him that if they restored all $311, I would download RealPlayer, refresh my DRM, burn all of the music to CDs and close my account never to return. If they did not, I would make sure people knew what Real was doing. They have credited me with the entire $311, so I am going on a music buying spree today.
However, I still think Rob Glaser is stealing people's music and not being upfront about it.
I have to disclose that my mom is a world-champion hissy-fit thrower, and a scourge upon dismissive customer service representatives worldwide. But seriously, copyright-law hard-liners like her former employer, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, should think twice about tangling with my mom and her collection of Ryan Adams downloads and ripped Lucinda Williams CDs. You have been warned. (Photo by AP/Ted S. Warren)