Direct online sales of music freed from digital rights management (DRM) are the wave of the future, and Sony BMG, Sony's (NYSE: SNE) music arm, appears to have capitulated -- kind of. It may have dropped DRM, but apparently, it's not quite ready to play nice; consumers interested in buying DRM-free music from Sony will have to clear a few hurdles first.

Basically, starting in mid-January, people can buy DRM-free digital albums from Sony by purchasing a gift card called Platinum MusicPass at retailers like Target (NYSE: TGT), Best Buy (NYSE: BBY), and Trans World Entertainment's (Nasdaq: TWMC) FYE. That's right: You'll have to get up and go to a physical store, purchase a physical card (for $12.99, more than most online stores charge), bring it back to your computer at home, and then type a numerical code from the card into the MusicPass Web site. Then, stand on your head and recite the Preamble to the Constitution.

OK, OK, just kidding about that last part. But this latest move won't allow you to load up on DRM-free MP3s through (Nasdaq: AMZN) or Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iTunes. Really, it sounds like a half-baked way for Sony to sound like it's giving consumers what they want, while in the meantime making it darn hard for them to get it. Brilliant! Also kind of lame: In the initial phase, only 37 albums will be available.

Is Sony's customer-be-damned attitude surprising? I'd say no. I mean, it's Sony. This is the company whose initial digital music players only worked with its own proprietary ATRAC technology, locking consumers into its own service and devices, and basically shooting itself in the foot with the metaphorical equivalent of an AK-47. Sony eventually had to disconnect its Connect music service; given the popularity and convenience of iTunes and iPod, I doubt many people missed it.

DRM may be a digital death sentence, and of the major four music companies, which also include Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG), Vivendi's Universal, and EMI, Sony's the last to capitulate. Obviously, that capitulation is grudging at best.

Too bad Sony has totally missed the point of offering its customers what they want. A paltry selection of inconveniently available DRM-free music is not progress -- it's just a creative new way of annoying consumers. The traditional music industry's biggest players could use some hits, but this move sounds like a miss.

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