Microsoft Shutters Its e-Book Store, Locks Everyone Out of Their Books

DRM has struck again. This time, everything everyone bought at Microsoft’s e-book store is going to be lost forever thanks to DRM.

DRM (Digital Right Management) has always been a modern digital snake oil to creators and stores alike. The goal, in theory, is that DRM is supposed to allow retailers to sell content online without the worry of piracy. This way, people who buy a legitimate copy will be protected. Anyone who really knows the ins and outs know that absolutely everything in that theory from beginning to end is false.

Over the years, there wound up being countless examples of DRM being cracked. DRM vendors announce that their DRM is completely uncrackable only to have their DRM cracked within hours (a few days if they are lucky). If anything, DRM has proven time and time again to be completely worthless in stopping piracy. Whether its time bombs, always on DRM, “consult the manual” DRM, license keys, or whatever else it is, it won’t stop piracy.

As for any aspect of protecting the consumer, it has actually proven to harm the consumer. We’ve seen that with the great Blu-Ray lockout of 2010, the Sony SunComm/MediaMax scandal of 2006 where rootkit technology opened up massive security holes in people’s computers, or the UbiSoft Assassin’s Creed 2 DRM fiasco of 2011 where an “Always On” DRM was applied (only to have the DRM cracked, then have the servers go offline, leaving only pirates to be permitted to play the game while legitimate customers get left out). History is quite littered with examples of DRM screwing over the customer and rewarding the pirate. Those are just three examples that come to ming.

Now, it seems that the tradition of DRM harming the consumer is continuing courtousy of Microsoft. According to Wired, Microsoft is shutting down it’s eBook store. The problem is that all their eBooks sold were encoded with DRM. So, anyone who has ever purchased an ebook from the store will soon see their books disappear from their collections. From the report:

Microsoft made the announcement in April that it would shutter the Microsoft Store’s books section for good. The company had made its foray into ebooks in 2017, as part of a Windows 10 Creators Update that sought to round out the software available to its Surface line. Relegated to Microsoft’s Edge browser, the digital bookstore never took off. As of April 2, it halted all ebook sales. And starting as soon as this week, it’s going to remove all purchased books from the libraries of those who bought them.

Other companies have pulled a similar trick in smaller doses. Amazon, overcome by a fit of irony in 2009, memorably vanished copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from Kindles. The year before that, Walmart shut down its own ill-fated MP3 store, at first suggesting customers burn their purchases onto CDs to salvage them before offering a download solution. But this is not a tactical strike. There is no backup plan. This is The Langoliers. And because of digital rights management—the mechanism by which platforms retain control over the digital goods they sell—you have no recourse. Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort.

“On the one hand, at least people aren’t out the money that they paid for these books. But consumers exchange money for goods because they preferred the goods to the money. That’s what happens when you buy something,” says Aaron Perzanowski, professor at the Case Western University School of Law and coauthor of The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy. “I don’t think it’s sufficient to cover the harm that’s been done to consumers.”

While not the most painful outcome we’ve seen from the scourge of DRM, it’s yet another reminder that when you buy something encrypted with DRM, you never owned your copy in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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