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Real researchers discover 'Music Without Limits'

Otherwise known as DRM-less MP3s

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The DRM deathwatch continues. Today, Real Networks announced that its Rhapsody digital music service is selling DRM-free MP3s from all four major records labels, following in the footsteps of Amazon and Napster.

That means you can now shuttle Rhapsody tunes onto any MP3 player, including the iPhone and the iPod.

Rhapsody will continue to offer an all-you-can-stream subscription service. But this will take a backseat to unrestricted MP3 downloads, which Real insists on calling "Music Without Limits." The company boasts that over the next year it will spend $50m promoting this change in philosophy - including $15m in the third quarter alone.

"Until now, legal digital music has suffered from severe limitations on where consumers could buy it and how they could use it," reads a canned statement from Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks. "'Music Without Limits,' fixes those problems and will make digital music easier and more valuable for consumers."

Individual tunes will sell for 99 cents, and you can purchase most albums for $9.99.

Real also announced that its revamped service will be available through various third-party music sites, including Yahoo! Music and MTV.com, as well as iLike, a social networking thingamajig that ties into everything from Facebook and MySpace to Orkut and Bebo.

From these outside operations, you can stream up to 25 Rhapsody tunes a month for free, and then, if you really like what you hear, you can purchase the songs - just as you would from Rhapsody itself.

What's more, Real is officially offering its catalog of 5.1 million tunes through Verizon's V Cast mobile music service. But naturally, Verizon insists on charging extra. If you download a tune straight to your Verizon phone, you'll pay $1.99. No, you can't move that tune to other devices, but Real will also shuttle a DRM-free MP3 to your PC.

If this setup annoys you, you can opt for the V Cast subscription model. The price: $14.99 a month.

So DRM isn't dead. But it's dying. We continue to wait on Apple's iTunes, where DRM still shackles tunes from three of the four major labels. EMI has come around, but not Universal, Sony, or Warner.

Of course, iTunes doesn't sell MP3s. Its tunes will only play on devices that handle the .AAC format. ®

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