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Virgin says unlimited music downloads 'outdated'

Hang on, it never actually launched ...

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Anyone remember Virgin's great unlimited MP3 music service? You can be forgiven for looking stumped. The day before the Carter Report was published in the Summer of 2009 – the report that became the basis of the Digital Economy Act – Virgin and Universal announced they'd be offering unlimited DRM-free MP3 downloads for the price of "a couple of albums per month".

Having snagged the world's biggest major label, Virgin then had great trouble getting the final two, and the independents. Now, two years after the suggested launch date came and went, Virgin's music chief says the idea might now be out-of-date.

Richard Wheeler says he's still hopeful it will launch. That hasn't changed. But since mid-2009 Spotify and rival services have allowed punters to stream music at home and cache it for playback on an iPhone, Android or Blackberry phone. That gives people the same value, Wheeler now thinks. So it might make more sense to work with one of these providers.

"Users' desire to cache tracks and listen to them on the go, that outdates the unlimited download model to a degree," he told a conference yesterday.

Sky attempted something far more modest, but cancelled it due to lack of interest just before Christmas.

The trend in online music is certainly moving towards streaming, and ISPs are keen to offer something – well, anything – in the hope it builds up loyalty and reduces customer churn. But there are strings attached when your music is in the cloud.

Just as CDs come with their own lossless format, wide compatibility, unencumbered MP3 and low prices, MP3s that you buy come with guarantees of portability: I know it is going to play on any device, and be accepted by any music player software. Just try extracting a music file from Spotify's DRM cache ... As a result, I don't rely on streams, or the "cloud", for anything I value. ®

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