Richard Branson is selling his share in the Virgin music stores which started off the Virgin brand and his rise to fame as part of a management buy-out. The stores will be re-branded as Zavvi. Virgin Digital, the music download service launched two years ago is the next to go, expecting to be finally closed on 19th October 2007.
Dear customer, we regret to announce that the Virgin Digital service is due to close.
We will be taking no new customers from Friday 21st September.
At midnight on Sunday the 30th September we will cease selling tracks and access will be for current Club users only.
On Friday the 19th October the site will close for all customers.
If you have purchased tracks from the service then we recommend that you back up your music files – Information about backing up and re-downloading your tracks
If you are a current Club member you will be able to continue using the service until the date that your next payment is due, after which the service will no longer be accessible to you.
To all our customers we would like to say thank you and offer our apologies for any inconvenience this might cause. We are happy to be able to offer you a 1-month free subscription to the Virgin Media digital streaming jukebox and this link will be available from next week.
Message shown to visitors at www.virgindigital.co.uk
Normally when a store closes, customers who have already bought the goods are no worse off with warranties maintained through manufacturer agreements, etc. but with music downloads containing Digital Rights Management (DRM) it becomes more complex. For £9.99 a month, customers could download as much music as they liked and as long as they paid the subscription fee, they could play it without restriction. Those wanting to transfer it to an MP3 player had to pay £5 extra a month. It appears that once the service is closed there will be no mechanism for renewal of the digital rights on the monthly subscriptions so material will become unplayable, raising big questions about the commercial viability of DRM in the long term with the inconvenience such changes cause. It should be noted however, where individuals paid to download individual tracks or albums, they will be unaffected.
Imagine if CDs self-destructed when a band went their separate ways? Why should downloads be different? Many users are likely to switch to downloading via illegal peer-to-peer (p2p) services rather than risk getting stung again by other companies.
Perhaps it is time for an independent third party to be formed to maintain digital rights licenses so that if companies cease trading, customers can continue to play music they have downloaded. This way, those who have previously paid a monthly license fee could be offered the opportunity to pay a one-off fee to obtain continued access to their music, or transfer their on-going license agreement to another company with easy. Could there be scope to re-jig the TV license to bring this into its remit as an additional option on top of the license fee?