SpiralFrog, Uni launch "free iTunes alternative." DRM, many restrictions apply.

Update: rumor has it the big "gotcha" is this -- music expires after 6 months. Music biz trade zine Hits Daily Double is reporting this, but no other sources yet.

The SpiralFrog service will be supported by online advertising, according to reports. Universal's participation is confirmed, and talks are under way with EMI and other music labels. I wonder exactly what kind of ads (how intrusive and time-engaging?), and what bitrate we're talking about -- really low-quality, or high enough that you'd actually *want* to listen?

Eliot Van Buskirk at Wired News has confirmed that the file format will be PlaysforSure-protected WMA (barf): Link.

Regular readers of this blog may recall Cory's post a few days ago with news that the Microsoft copy-protection scheme was unclimactically cracked: Link

Snip from Reuters report with more on today's launch news:

SpiralFrog, a new music download service, on Tuesday said it would make Vivendi's Universal Music Group's catalog available for free legal downloading in the United States and Canada.

The new advertising-supported service, due to launch later this year, joins the ranks of rivals battling for a piece of the digital music market in the shadow of Apple Computer Inc's dominant iTunes music store.

New York-based SpiralFrog said it would offer users of its free, Web-based service the ability to legally download music of Universal's roster, which includes U2, Gwen Stefani and The Roots.

The service as described would seem to preclude burning to CD and transferring the files to iPods (without sneaky and potentially illegal workarounds). If so: that blows. Snip from a related item on TechCrunch summarizing comments by a SpiralFrog spokesperson:
Spiral Frog will offer a desktop downloader for Windows Media Files (no iPods!) that can be listened to on one PC and two portable devices. Here’s the kicker - you must log in to the Spiral Frog service at least once per month, and see their ads, or your files will stop playing!
((Ed. note: you're kidding, right?))
The details aren’t fully set in stone, but it will be something like that. There will be links to third party sites of the record labels’ choosing if you’d like to buy your freedom to at least skip the ads.

Spiral Frog will also offer far more than just music, but also video and other digital content. The selling point here is that users will be able to access media legally, without the malware, bad network connections and pirate’s shame that comes from other online media sources.

"Pirate's Shame?" I doubt many people who download from illicit services are losing sleep -- or downloads -- over that one. It's hard for me to imagine this service doing anything to solve the broader dilemma, given the considerable disconnect between SpiralFrog's planned restrictions and the usability/portability needs of its stated target population: 18-34yo music fans. (via pho list and many BB readers, thanks all)