Late last week, Microsoft launched a mobile phone music downloading service in the UK, but the public has quickly focused its attention on Microsoft UK's mystifying choice to include digital rights management (DRM) on its music files. PC Pro reports that the restrictions prevent buyers from playing the music anywhere but on the mobile phone used to make the purchase, while tracks from the iTunes Music Store and Amazon's MP3 store are cheaper and DRM-free.

In a follow-up Q&A published by PC Pro, a Microsoft UK executive attempts a familiar "defense" of the DRM antifeature -- acting like the consumer may want less freedom with their purchased media:

[Q:] With the likes of iTunes and Amazon offering DRM-free music that you can play on any device, why would anyone choose the MSN Mobile service?

[A:] There may well be people who just want to listen to the track on their mobile alone.

Even users that prefer to listen to MP3s on their mobile phone are able to load their devices with cheaper tracks from iTunes or Amazon; moreover those DRM-free tracks won't become unplayable when the user upgrades to a new model. It seems unlikely that MSN Mobile Music's DRM-laden service will see much growth after Apple and Amazon have publicly announced the end of DRM on their digital music sales. Forward-thinking companies should also recognize that DRM can be a liability -- facing mass consumer frustration, game publisher Electronic Arts was forced to retool its DRM scheme for the video game Spore and now faces a class action lawsuit over the SecuROM copy protection software. In the US, DRM's bad reputation has reached even the government, with the Federal Trade Commission planning a public meeting in March to gather views on DRM and its effects on consumers.

For MSN Mobile Music, there are really only two viable options for moving forward: come up to speed with the rest of the DRM-free music market, or fold.

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