How does Rhapsody protect its downloaded music?

This question arose because I deleted a couple of Rhpasody songs through my file manager instead of the Rhapsody software, and I was concerned that their account system might work something like a lending library. That is, if I “checked out” a song by downloading it, eventually it would have to be checked back by deleting it through the same software, or I might end up being billed for it.

So I sent them that question, and they said don’t worry, when you unsubscribe, you won’t be able to play music through your media player any more. It doesn’t matter how or if I delete the files.

So I did a little experimenting, and these files (WMA format) play just fine through my Windows Media Player. I did find though, that I can’t import them into iTunes in their current format, nor will iTunes convert such “protected” files into Apple’s AAC format.

But what’s to stop me from downloading tons of music, unsubscribing, and then listening to the music for the rest of my life through Windows Media Player?

FYI, I already know how to convert these WMA files into mp3 (if I want to), so this a really a matter of intellectual curiosity and I have no interest in stealing their product. I just want to know why they, and presumably their artists, think the music is protected.

The short answer is that Windows Media Player checks to make sure that you’re authorized to play that WMA file before it plays it.

So it needs a live internet connection to do that? Or is there some expiration date coded into the file that Rhapsody would periodically extend assuming I maintained my subscription?

I believe it uses Windows Media DRM (wikipedia link)

The music files are encrypted. They are played by getting a key from a central server which is used to decrypt them so they can be played (this should require internet).

If you had the key and knew how they were encrypted you could simply decrypt the files and then play them any time you wanted. It’s a game of cat and mouse where the DRM is inevitably broken, and then newer versions of the DRM are rolled out which have to be broken again to extract new media.

When you download, you are able to play that track offline for 30 days. When 30 days are up, and you go to play the song offline again, you will get a message that you need to login to Rhapsody before you can play it again. When you login to Rhapsody and are online, the track will be renewed for another 30 days once it verifies a current subscription. You don’t get that message if you are basically online all the time, because it automatically checks in the background and renews as needed as long as your subscription is paid, so you just don’t notice. (Napster/Rhapsody user since 2005)

On preview - I could be wrong about the 30 days - the track is either encrypted to 30 days or to your next subscription renewal date, I forget which. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually downloaded anything, nowadays I just stream everything to computer or phone and make playlists or add to library and don’t bother with downloads any more. So that’s my best recollection on the last time it came up, I think three years ago or so. Anyway, it comes down to the tracks needing DRM renewal after a finite amount of time, after which you need a current paid subscription and connection to internet when needed or the track just won’t play.