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Yahoo! is taking some time out from worrying about what it's like to be a Microsoft tentacle to offload its damp squib music subscription service.

Rhapsody, the near-identical subscription service joint-owned by RealNetworks and Viacom, will take on Yahoo! Music Unlimited's undisclosed customer base, in what's descibed as a "strategic partnership". Basically, Rhapsody is buying a few thousand more users.

The Wall Street Journal confirms the deal was cut before Steve Ballmer's takeover approach on Friday, and it indeed makes sense as part of Yahoo! boss Jerry Yang's long-promised purge of unsuccessful businesses. Conveniently, however, it removes one (albeit minor) potential anti-trust stumbling block, since Microsoft has its own music store businesses, via Zune and MSN.

Yahoo! will hang on to its other more popular music services such as ad-supported promo videos and LaunchCast, its net radio effort. The firm has been trying to ditch the subscription service, which it launched in 2005, for months.

The soon-to-be-defunct subscription service meanwhile offers unlimited DRM-crippled tracks that won't play on iPods in exchange for $8.99 per month. The restriction software makes the tracks unplayable on any device if the subscription is cancelled. We can't imagine why it hasn't been a roaring success.

Back in October, Yahoo! music boss Ian Rogers railed against DRM, saying: "I personally don't have any more time to give and can't bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value." In January it was reported a new DRM-free store is in the works, with music either ad-supported or paid for per track.

DRM-crippled subscription models generally have failed to make any great headway with music fans, and Apple has astutely steered clear. Napster, now Rhapsody's only serious subscription competitor, is in the process of attempting to reinvent itself (again!) as a legal DRM-free download store, in the mould of Amazon Digital and iTunes Plus.

Rhapsody itself is targeting distribution to mobile phones and TV set-top boxes in an attempt to attract subscribers who it hopes are more likely to accept music as a rental service, rather than a purchase, on those devices.

Painfully slow moves are afoot in the record business to license DRM-free music subscription services and even peer to peer, but if and when they will deliver is anybody's guess. ®

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