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Virgin unplugs music download service

Apple swipes away Branson

Virgin has closed Virgin Digital, its Windows Media-based alternative to Apple's iTunes. It stopped selling one-off downloads on Friday, though subscribers will still have access to their collections until their next monthly payment is due.

After that, their songs will no longer be playable, thanks to the limitations placed on playback by the DRM technology built into each track.

Virgin announced the move this weekend in an email sent out to all its customers, all of whom have presumably been busy backing up their tracks or - in the case of subscribers - burning them to CD so they can be re-imported as MP3s.

The service will formally close on Friday, 28 September - coincidentally the day Apple's new iPod Touch is due to arrive in the UK - and finally shut down on Friday, 19 October.

Virgin have no reason for the shut-down, simply offering its "apologies for any inconvenience this might cause".

The company said it would offer subscribers a free month's usage of "Virgin Media's music streaming service" - a new service the broadband, cable TV and mobile phone network will be announcing this week.

US subscribers, meanwhile, are being punted toward Napster, which is now honouring Virgin Digital pre-pay cards and vouchers.

Virgin Digital launched in the UK two years ago, in September 2005, a major revival of the music store chain's early service. Rival High Street chain HMV updated its download service in the same month.

But neither was able to seriously challenge Napster UK, let alone iTunes - Apple's ownership of the portable music player market quickly cemented its domination of the download arena too. And Russian site AllofMP3.com proved rather popular with UK consumers, accounting for more sales than all but iTunes by April 2006. It closed its doors in July this year.

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