Verizon Wireless offers Rhapsody music service for $15 per month

Cellphones are becoming more useful devices for listening to music.

Verizon Wireless is introducing Rhapsody's subscription music service Monday, allowing its customers to download as much music as they want to their phones for $15 per month.

The service will work with seven current handsets and three to be launched soon, including the third version of the popular music-oriented LG Chocolate.

The wireless arm of AT&T has a similar subscription arrangement with Napster.

In a related announcement, Rhapsody said it is getting rid of copy protection on all tracks bought from its online music store. Beginning Monday, customers can buy music in the MP3 format, which will play on practically any music gadget, including iPods.

Rhapsody is following in the tracks of Napster, Apple's iTunes and Amazon.com, all of which have introduced MP3 downloads and moved away from digital rights management, or DRM, which prevents copying and piracy, but also makes it difficult to legally move music between devices.

Rhapsody is a joint venture of RealNetworks and Viacom through its MTV subsidiary.

Apart from its music sales and subscription service, Rhapsody provides 30-second music samples that can be played on several websites, through "music discovery service" iLike. Those clips will now be expanded to full tracks, and surfers can listen to up to 25 of them per month without a Rhapsody subscription.

The MP3s without copy protection will extend to RealNetworks' existing relationship with Verizon Wireless. Previously, a user who bought and downloaded an individual song on a Verizon VCast handset got another copy of the song for the PC. Now, that copy will be an unprotected MP3. The copy that arrives wirelessly on the phone will still be in a protected format.

"We're taking this one step at a time," said Ed Ruth, Verizon Wireless' director of digital music. There's a concern, he said, that allowing unprotected downloads directly to cellphones could encourage piracy.

Songs downloaded through the new $15 unlimited service on Verizon phones will still come with DRM. The process requires users to connect their phones to a Windows PC running Rhapsody's software. There is no Macintosh version.

Verizon Wireless claims to be the second-largest U.S. distributor of music downloads, after iTunes. That's counting sales of ringtones as well as full tracks.

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