Digital Rights Management (DRM), and oxymoronic term since something ceases to be a right the second it’s managed, has been the bane of digital content consumers’ existence since it was first developed. Why does the single player game I bought need a constant Internet connection? DRM. Why is this audio CD trying to install a rootkit on my system? DRM. Why can’t I watch this movie I purchased from the iTunes Store on my Kodi box? DRM.
However, the greatest danger of DRM lies in the fact that any content protected by DRM can be taken away from you. This is a lesson that people who purchased e-books via Microsoft’s service (I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Microsoft had an e-book service) are learning right now:
There’s bad news for users of Microsoft’s eBook store: the company is closing it down, and, with it, any books bought through the service will no longer be readable.
To soften the blow, the company has promised to refund any customers who bought books through the store (a clue that there may not have been that many of them, hence the closure. Microsoft did not offer further comment).
But just think about that for a moment. Isn’t it strange? If you’re a Microsoft customer, you paid for those books. They’re yours.
But they’re not yours. Why? DRM.
The upside for consumers is that Microsoft isn’t closing its e-book service because it’s is filing for bankruptcy, which means it’s is in a position to offer refunds (more on that in a moment). This situation makes it an oddity though. Oftentimes when a service shuts down it’s doing so because it has run out of money. If this were a small e-book distribution service, not only would its customers lose all access to the books that they purchased, but they would also receive no refund.
But let’s talk about Microsoft’s refund for a moment. If you go to the announcement page, you’ll see that there are some strings attached:
How do I get my refund?
Refund processing for eligible customers start rolling out automatically in early July 2019 to your original payment method. If your original payment method is no longer valid and on file with us, you will receive a credit back to your Microsoft account for use online in Microsoft Store.
If your original payment method is still valid (i.e. if your credit card hasn’t expired or been stolen) you will get a credit back. That’s actually pretty good but if the original payment method is no longer valid, you get Microsoft Fun Bucks, which you can use to buy more DRM encumbered content that may go away at any moment. That’s not as sweet of a deal.
The service will shutdown in July so if you’re in the middle of reading a book, you better finish it up before it’s taken away from you.