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It was a small story that passed virtually unnoticed this week, but you have to give props PassAlong Networks for its new freedomMP3 platform.

To be sure, it's not perfect-limiting tracks to 20 transfers might sound great to labels but sounds pretty lousy to a customer. And allowing different rules to be placed on different tracks can quickly result in an even more confusing system than we have now.

Yet I applaud the concept. Interoperable lock-and-key DRM is on the way out. It's not working and technology companies are using both their proprietary technologies and their patents to their own benefit instead of the benefit of the music industry or music fans. If MP3 is indeed to be the standard of choice, technologies that place at least some degree of control over the otherwise interoperable format is a step in the right direction and one that adds a bit of "carrot to the DRM stick" that MP3 advocates have been waving around.

Although it's unlikely to get much traction, PassAlong's approach is the kind of creative, out-of-the box thinking that is needed to solve the jigsaw puzzle that is today's digital music environment. Now just give it another go.

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Verizon Wireless' decision to pull its sponsorship of Gwen Stefani's tour over the antics of opening act Akon in Trinidad makes crystal clear the balancing act wireless operators are faced with as they attempt to get into the entertainment business.

Wireless operators like Verizon are incredibly conservative companies.

Historically, they've had to be. With more than 50 million subscribers to keep happy, naturally Verizon or any other of the top 4 carriers are going to take the middle of the road approach to pretty much everything they do. It's a one-sized-fits-all philosophy.

But now these same operators, and Verizon in particular, are trying to project a hip image in hopes of elbowing into the entertainment biz. Verizon has a music download store to promote. It wants subscribers to see their mobile phones as MP3 players. It wants to be thought of as a music brand. And because Verizon doesn't know how to be hip on its own, the next best thing is to sidle up to those who already are -- namely, artists.

But what's hip isn't always safe, particularly in the music industry. Artists are unpredictable and their lifestyles don't always fit well into a corporate image.

If Verizon wants to capitalize on the cache of the artists it sponsors, it's got to be willing to get a little dirty in the process. And let's be honest, we're talking about a few specks of dust here. Verizon was sponsoring Stefani, not Akon, and the incident in question didn't even take place on the Stefani tour.

It's hard to imagine many subscribers would have taken the time and effort to buy a new phone, switch networks and go through the hassle of transferring their existing number just because of a 40-second video clip on YouTube, no matter how loud the pundits cried foul. It would have blown over with very little fallout landing on Verizon.

But instead, Verizon caved the minute a few conservative blowhards blew the whole thing out of proportion. In doing so, Verizon made the story even bigger.

While impossible to quantify, my guess is the damage to any "street cred" Verizon was trying to build by sponsoring these various tours will be much greater that the backlash it might have taken had it stood firm.