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SpiralFrog DRM music to play 60 days, then vanish

Ad-support music service is dead and in two months its music will die, too. Is this more proof that DRM sucks or are customers too demanding of a freebie?

SpiralFrog users can continue to play songs obtained from the now defunct company for two more months before they become inaccessible, according to a source close to the company.

The ad-supported music service shuttered its Web site late Thursday evening and ceased operations, the source told CNET. Some customers of the service asked on Friday how long their music, which is wrapped in copy-protection software, will continue to play. A source familiar with SpiralFrog's operations said the service's digital rights management technology, designed to prevent unauthorized copying, will lock up the music indefinitely after 60 days. The songs could live again should SpiralFrog's assets be acquired and the new owner decide to relaunch the service, the source said.

DRM critics will certainly cite this as further proof that the technology is anti-consumer. The software remains hugely unpopular among many music fans for limiting their ability to play songs on devices of their choice. The critics argue that a person never really owns DRM-locked music because they need server keys provided by service operators to unlock the songs. But Christopher Levy, a vocal proponent of the technology and considered one of the leading experts in the field, questioned whether customers should be angered about losing music they never paid a cent for.

Christopher Levy BuyDRM

"(Protecting songs with DRM) was the only way that SpiralFrog could offer the model," Levy said. "The record labels refused to go to market without it. This was a very good business proposition for consumers. They received free music as long as they agreed to be bombarded by advertisements...I think it's hard to criticize the company...I think 60 days is very impressive."

Levy, who owns the company BuyDRM, says consumers deal with DRM every day in ways they don't notice. The technology is improving and soon it will be even less obtrusive. The technology helps protects the rights of content creators, consumers, and technologists, he said.

"When DRM is right in the middle of all three, that is where happiness is," Levy said. "Consumers are getting more comfortable with DRM and it isn't going away. It may need to change, but it's not going away."

Antipiracy software is used by the film industry and by music subscription services, such as Napster and RealNetwork's Rhapsody. But in the past year, download sites like Apple's iTunes and Amazon have rejected copy-protection software with the blessing of the major record companies.

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday is hosting a conference on the use of DRM at the University of Washington School of Law, said Levy, who will speak at the gathering.

According to an FTC press release, DRM "is expected to become increasingly prevalent in the U.S. marketplace in the coming years" and address "the need to improve disclosures to consumers about DRM limitations."