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Real Debuts DRM-Free MP3, Upgrades Verizon Service

New York — Real Networks has begun offering more than 5 million songs in unprotected MP3 format, including music from the four largest music companies, and it has teamed with Verizon Wireless to launch an upgrade of Verizon’s music-download services.

For downloading to the PC, Real’s Rhapsody service today began offering more than 5 million MP3-format songs free of digital rights management (DRM) technology. The songs are available for purchase at, most at 99 cents with albums going for $9.99.

Real follows Amazon and Napster in offering DRM-free MP3 music from the big four labels — Universal, Sony/BMG, Warner and EMI — and independents. Napster was the most recent entrant, having launched its MP3 service in May with more than 6 million songs.

In partnership with Verizon, Real is operating Verizon’s “VCast Music With Rhapsody” service. Like Verizon’s predecessor service, it offers over-the-air downloads to the phone as well as downloads to the PC. With the upgraded service, over-the-air downloads will remain in protected WMA format. The PC downloads, however, will now be in DRM-free MP3 format, having previously been in protected WMA format. PC downloads cost 99 cents, and a dual download of music to the PC and to the phone costs $1.99. A subscription to a data plan isn’t necessary to download songs over the air.

Consumers who don’t want to pay $1.99 for a dual download can pay 99 cents for the DRM-free download to the PC and then side-load the song to any existing Verizon music phone.

All charges appear on a consumer’s monthly Verizon Wireless bill.

In another upgrade by Real to the Verizon service, select Verizon phones are compatible for the first time with a subscription-download service. The service, which costs $14.99/month, is also from Rhapsody, which enables downloading of a song to a PC and side-loading of the song from the PC to a Verizon phone. The subscription downloads are not available as over-the-air downloads. A subscription can be accessed from a combined total of six devices, which includes three PCs and three portable devices such as cellphones or dedicated MP3 players.

Although Verizon won’t be the first carrier to offer phones compatible with subscription-download services, the carrier contends it will have the broadest offering of music phones compatible with a subscription-download service.

For now, nine phones synchronize with the Verizon/Rhapsody service’s PC software and are therefore compatible with Rhapsody’s subscription downloads. The phones are the LG Decoy and Dare; Motorola W755; and Samsung’s u550, Glyde and Juke. Three other phones need an in-store software upgrade: the Motorola Z6TV and Razr V9m and the LG VX8700. In the future, all phones with VCast service will sync with the new PC software, most current music-centric phones will be upgraded to be compatible, and select other phones will be upgraded, said Verizon digital music director Ed Ruth. A new LG Chocolate due this summer will also be fully compatible.

Any existing MP3-playing music phone from Verizon and other carriers, as well as any MP3 player, will be able to play the DRM-free MP3s when side-loaded from a PC.