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Spotify's free music service now limited to 10 hours per month

Spotify has restricted its free service to 10 hours a month and five plays of any particular song -- ever. It's an effort to get more users to pay for music streaming.

Spotify is restricting its free service to put a brake on your heavy music streaming. It's cutting the maximum monthly listening time in half to 10 hours, and introducing caps on how many times you can play individual songs.

The changes were announced this morning, and come into force six months after users first register for the company's free service. The 10-hour monthly limit is half the 20 hours that you're currently able to listen to on the Spotify Open free service, but it's the song caps that may cause just as much of a stir: you'll only be able to play individual tracks five times ever.

Here's Spotify's official statement, from chief content officer Ken Parks:

"We've got to balance a number of priorities. Chief amongst those priorities is to keep the free service, which is what makes Spotify unique, and what you're seeing here is a balance of these priorities. We've shown that the model is doing extremely well, but as things stand we need to tweak the service to ensure everyone has access to legal music in the long term."

Before you start throwing rotten fruit at Spotify as a protest -- not a good thing for your computer monitor in any case -- you have to read between the lines of this statement. Spotify has always stressed that it thinks its free service is a crucial ingredient in persuading people to eventually pay to upgrade to Spotify Premium or Unlimited.

That is to say, people use Spotify for free for six months, or even a year or more, and at some point realise they think it's worth paying for. More than 1 million people have made that decision so far. Some of the company's record label partners (and shareholders), however, think Spotify could be nudging users along a little more when it comes to upgrading.

Hence these restrictions, which are clearly the result of some seriously hard-balled negotiations between Spotify and the record labels. It gets to keep running a free service, but the labels can restrict some of the heavier usage in an effort to get more people paying for music. If this works, both sides will be happy.

Our honest view? It comes down to a philosophical question: if you're using Spotify for more than 10 hours a month, isn't it worth paying a fiver to get the desktop-only Unlimited service? You can spend that much on a glass of wine, after all. But let us know what you think of the changes, and what they'll mean for how you use Spotify.