Sonos removes Windows DRM playback, customers left high & dry

Gremlin sez, "Sonos recently pushed an update to their once stellar music system which disabled windows DRM. They decided that it was unnecessary to continue to support this feature moving forward. Unfortunately they also pushed this update without warning to many customers, and they are offering no way for those customers to roll back to the previous version. Their answer to those customers effected is that they've made the decision for us. Many customers have been complaining, but it sets a dangerous precedent for them to be able to remove features at will. Today it's a lightly used DRM system (mostly it effects people using Zune Pass at this point) tomorrow maybe it'll be Sirius Satellite, spotify, or something else more people use. We've suggested that we'd be fine with them allowing us to roll back and making the decision ourselves to not take future update but they will not allow this to occur."

It's entirely possible that the decision wasn't Sonos's to make. After all, DRM license agreements routinely provide for "revocation" in which a DRM vendor or licensing body reserves the right to order its partners to discontinue the playback of its DRM for some reason or another. Which is one of the great dangers of DRM: you buy a device with six features today, and tomorrow it has five, or four, or three, or none. The negotiations resulting in these confiscations are confidential, conducted between giant corporations without any input from the people who've bought the equipment and the media to play on it.

I wrote a long, open letter to Wired editor Chris Anderson about this in 1994, when he told me that rejecting DRM was "idealistic" and defended taking a "pragmatic stance" when reviewing technology that had DRM in it. But worrying about what happens when your devices are designed to be remotely deactivated without your consent or knowledge is eminently pragmatic and has nothing to do with idealism, as we keep on learning.

Question 3.6 "Sonos will no longer support the Windows Media DRM format"


  1. This doesn’t really have anything to do with DRM.  Sonos could just as easily have disabled FLAC, or MP3.  Not that they would, but for the sake of example.  The problem is that Sonos is a closed system that you can’t modify.  They control the software, not you.  If you want a totally hackable wireless music player, you should get a SqueezeBox.

    1. But if all the music you purchased was one way or another not currently DRM-encumbered, at least in theory you could batch convert it into whatever format Sonos will accept… Unless they’ve decided to start fingerprinting stuff and chasing after licenses — or that the device simply isn’t an audio player of any kind anymore.

      The strongest lesson here is to never end up with DRMed files at the end of the day when you buy stuff. Either buy things with no DRM or breakable DRM and liberate your purchases immediately.

    2. But DRM implies that a player is a closed system.  If the player were open, DRM would be trivially breakable. So you’re right that the problem is closed appliances in general, but closed appliances are a necessary consequence of DRM.

    3. The problem is that Sonos is a closed system that you can’t modify.

      A buddy of mine is a Sonos dealer; he’s also a Logitech dealer, but discourages its use. For his clientele—people who want the “security” of a storefront—the “closed system” aspect of Sonos is its biggest draw.  As in, no matter how messed up your LAN/WiFi is, if the ethernet-connected Bridge can get an IP from your router then Sonos can set up its mesh network without need of user intervention/tweaking/cursing. There’s  little enough profit in selling these things; it’s more than wasted after spending hours on the phone (and home visits) with a 48-year old podiatrist-cum-cyber-wiz-wannabe who can’t get his Logitech Touch to work long enough to download the seemingly daily updates ;-)

    1. Apples and oranges. You can still use Java apps via the OpenJDK, or you can manually install the Oracle JDK from Oracle’s package yourself. Also, speculative, because this decision hasn’t been made.

      1.  Yes, you can if you:

        1) Know that the reason that some things don’t work any more is that Java was uninstalled (hint: most users won’t have a clue, all they will know is that they can no longer log in to their bank, or play minecraft, or whatever).

        2) realize that you can install another Java

        3) Know how to do it.

        But that is besides the point. The comparison is that they can remove features from anyones machine. Yes, you have to click “update” first (unless you’ve set it to be done automatically, as many have done on their parents or non-geek friends computers), but they don’t give any hint at all that there is a reason to read trough the change list. Thus most people won’t, and will happily click “update” never knowing that in stead of actually updating, it actually uninstalles.

        1. OpenJDK has been the default for ages in Fedora. If you haven’t realized that you can install another JDK, chances are that you are using OpenJDK already.

    2. I sometimes run Ubuntu on my laptop, and when I get fed up with Canonical’s shenanigans, I can throw that away and install Linux Mint. If I was a naive user and didn’t understand why I’d lost functionality, I might be a bit confused and ask an expert for help, and they might help me choose something to better fit my needs. I never paid Canonical any money and they don’t owe me anything or assert any more control over my system than I’ve chosen to allow.

      On the other hand, Sonos is the only provider of software for hardware these victims purchased, and Sonos is not in the mood to relinquish any control of that hardware. The packaging says it plays Windows DRMed files, and now it doesn’t because of a conscious decision someone made, and no one has been compensated for the loss. That’s immoral.

  2. Yup, I’m one of those customers who have been left “high and dry” (I’m “ceesar” on the Sonos forums and on Twitter) … I can summarise the response from the interactions I’ve had from Sonos so far as “tough luck, we’ve made the change, we’re not going back, it sucks to be you”. My point is that I’ve made a significant investment in Sonos, *because* it supported WMDRM … and now, arbitrarily, they’ve removed support for it, and my system is left essentially useless.

    1. All DRM support goes dark at one point. You can only fault Sonos for scheduling that day earlier rather than later…

    1. No.  Both words are both noun and verb.

      The legitimate customers’ affect will remain glum until someone is able to effect changes. The decisions that affect Windows DRM support have no effect on pirates.

  3. Sweep up comments:

    iTunes/iPhone + AirPortExpress + existing-stereo = Sonos at 1/5 the price

    When i purchase music, I always try to get it FLAC encoded.  But I use iTunes for playback.  How? CLI to the rescue:

    ffmpeg -i in.flac -acodec alac out.m4a

  4. I have zune and so far nothing has happened, I’m still able to download music , like I always do , please be more specific this is like a random thought

    1. I have zune and so far nothing has happened, I’m still able to download music , like I always do , please be more specific this is like a random thought

      If you don’t have a Sonos system, this doesn’t affect you. (The Zune Pass itself is unchanged, only your ability to playback that music on Sonos.)

  5. The sheeple take it up the arse once again.
    Zfukerberg does this every 2 months with f-book.
    There will be no big outrage on this either.

    One day GM will say you can’t start or use “your” car because they found out you listen to a certain radio station or play certain digital music while driving.

    Where are the ralph naders of this generation demanding consumer rights for electronic devices and software ?

  6. I own a large, expensive  Sonos system.
    Up to now the system updates were bug fixes or improvements.
    It is despicable that they take away codecs in updates.
    I have a large music archive with several formats due to my former music systems.
    If they decide to kill ogg vorbis in a future update I have a huge problem.
    It is like you bring your to car have the engine serviced and it comes back with two doors and the reverse gear removed because they decided you don’t need that anymore.
    Hell – Sonos is like Apple. Never again a closed environment.

    1. Hell – Sonos is like Apple. Never again a closed environment.

      I play any format I want on my Mac, thanks… and iTunes has been selling DRM-free music for a very long time now.  You can load them on any other non-Apple player you want.

      I also play flac via Perian on the rare occasions that I run into them.  Apple definitely has issues, but being a draconian completely “closed environment” isn’t one of them when it comes to music on my Mac, etc., at least.

  7. Wait, I thought removing DRM was a good thing. Am I missing something? Did they remove the ability to play files with DRM on them?

Comments are closed.