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Rhapsody is an online music service run by RealNetworks and available in the USmarker only. Launched in December 2001, Rhapsody was the first music service to offer streaming on-demand access to a large library of digital music. Downloaded files come with restrictions on their use, enforced by Helix, RealNetworks' version of digital rights management.


In 1999, Tim Bratton, JP Lester, Sylvain Rebaud, Alexandre Brouaux, Nick Sincaglia and Dave Lampton were working on a new streaming audio engine. This engine was commercially deployed in the customized radio service, and was also used in their "celestial jukebox" prototype.

In April 2001 was acquired by, a startup founded in San Franciscomarker that had built a massive online music directory. The prototype was transformed into the Rhapsody music service during the summer and fall of 2001 and was launched on December 3, 2001.

Rhapsody was revolutionary at the time because it was the first streaming on-demand music subscription service to offer unlimited access to a large library of digital music for a flat monthly fee. At launch, Rhapsody's library was composed mostly of content from Naxos and a number of independent labels. Over the next several months of 2002, they were able to secure licenses from EMI, BMG, Warner, and Sony to add their music to the service. In July 2002, Rhapsody managed to add Universal to their catalog, thus getting the last of the five major record labels of the time.

RealNetworks announced plans to acquire on April 21, 2003, one week prior to the launch of the iTunes Music Store on April 28, 2003. The transaction closed on August 3, 2003. The Rhapsody service was briefly known as RealRhapsody shortly after the acquisition, but has since shortened back to "Rhapsody".

Rhapsody is considered one of the canonical examples of The Long Tail theory . The service provided extensive data on consumer usage of the service for Chris Anderson's article "The Long Tail", which was published in Wired in October 2004, and subsequently provided updated data for Anderson's book of the same name.

In 2006, power metal band Rhapsody had to change its name to Rhapsody of Fire after running into a trademark dispute with Rhapsody parent RealNetworks, which owned the Rhapsody trademark in the United States. The band Rhapsody had been around four years before the launch of the Rhapsody service. As of February 2006, RealNetworks claimed more than 2.25 million subscribers of whom more than 1.4 million were music subscribers.


Rhapsody can be accessed as a streaming service on their website or as an installed player.Rhapsody has browsing features and a popularity system similar to those of its competitors.

Rhapsody offers a free ad-supported version, with a limit of 25 on-demand songs per month and access to 25 Internet radio stations. Unlimited access to the catalog and radios requires a $12.99 monthly subscription, and an additional monthly $2 allows the suscriber to transfer the songs to compatible PlaysForSure portable devices without purchasing them.

Non-subscribers can purchase individual songs and albums directly from Rhapsody.

Rhapsody subscriptions are possible by TiVO. However, many subscribers have complained of the software problems that have plagued the "Rhapsody on TiVo" integration its release and the inability for Real Networks to deliver a consistent fix.

Since March 2007, the streaming service is available on Nokia's N800-N810 series internet tablets running Internet Tablet OS 2007 & 2008 (Maemo) through Wi-Fi. The Rhapsody client on the N8x0 does sync with Rhapsody playlists via the internet but not via the PC Rhapsody client.

Rhapsody boasts a catalog of 5,000,000 songs.


  • Files in RealAudio .RAX format cannot be played on most software media players.
  • Service is only available in the United Statesmarker and its territories, except the Marshall Islandsmarker, the Federated States of Micronesiamarker, and Palaumarker.
  • Downloaded songs are encrypted with Helix DRM unless the user specifies that they wish to download Windows Media Audio files in the program's preferences.
  • Music licensing agreements Rhapsody maintains with major record labels means that the database of available music is subject to change at any time. For example, tracks previously available can become unavailable without any warning.
  • Licensing is usually done by track and album, meaning that some tracks may be licensed for purchase only.
  • Subscription cancellation can be done by phone (toll-free) at 1-866-597-5465 (9am-9pm ET Monday-Friday, 10:30am-8pm ET weekends) or by email.

Purchase music from the Rhapsody store can be bought in MP3 format.


Rhapsody customers using the Jukebox client may use the Harmony plug-in by RealNetworks to convert tracks purchased from the Rhapsody service into FairPlay AAC files for use on Applemarker's iPod line of digital audio players. Apple has countered this feature by modifying the firmware on certain iPods to prevent playback of these converted files without affecting tracks purchased via Apple's iTunes Music Store. Real initially responded by continually modifying the Harmony plug-in to restore compatibility.

RealNetworks also slashed the price of its songs to below that of iTunes and setup a web petition at However, the campaign was largely seen to have backfired. Most petition comments were negative, with some accusing RealNetworks of astroturfing, while others pointed out that RealNetworks was hypocritical in not licensing its own DRM, despite pressing Apple to open up FairPlay. Apple accused RealNetworks of adopting "the tactics and ethics of a hacker" and said that it would examine the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which some speculated would lead to litigation. RealNetworks no longer updates the Harmony plug-in, as SEC filings reveal that a lawsuit against them would be potentially costly.

Rhapsody now sells its songs in MP3 format without DRM restrictions.

See also



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