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updated 7/30/2008 7:52:45 PM ET 2008-07-30T23:52:45

Yahoo Inc. is offering coupons or refunds to users who find songs they bought inaccessible after Sept. 30, when the company shuts its music-download service.

The decision to close the Yahoo Music Store had added fuel to criticisms over copy-protection measures known as digital rights management, but Yahoo promised it won't entirely abandon loyal customers.

The company said Wednesday it is offering coupons on request for people to buy songs again through Yahoo's new partner, RealNetworks Inc.'s Rhapsody. Those songs will be in the MP3 format, free of copy protection. Refunds are available for users who "have serious problems with this arrangement," Yahoo said.

Spokeswoman Carrie Davis said a "small number" of users are affected by the change. Yahoo wouldn't disclose the actual number.

Yahoo announced this year it was ceasing its online music subscription service and switching customers to Rhapsody. Subscriptions will continue at the same monthly rates for an unspecified period.

For people who bought songs outright — paying a one-time fee for a specific track rather than a continuing subscription for unlimited music — Yahoo will be shutting the digital-rights management servers needed to verify eligibility. Copy-protection measures placed on the tracks require access to those servers when users buy a new computer or upgrade their operating system.

The company warns that "after the store has closed, you will not be able to transfer songs to another computer or relicense these songs after changing operating systems."

Yahoo says users can burn songs onto a regular audio CD and rip them back as an MP3 file without the copy-protection technology, but that requires time and blank CDs, and can result in a loss in quality.

Critics of digital rights management point to Yahoo's decision to end support for legally purchased music as yet another reason to push for tracks free of such limits, something the recording industry is starting to embrace.

Earlier, Microsoft Corp. backtracked from plans to shutter its MSN Music servers this year and agreed to continue authorizing music on new computers through at least 2011.

But Davis said Yahoo opted to shut down its system to avoid "delaying the inevitable."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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