Napster’s story is an easy one. The online service plans to drop digital rights management technology this spring, thus joining iTunes, in selling unprotected downloads.

Napster’s plans apply only to album and single downloads the company actually sells outright and not to its subscription service, where subscribers download all they want for a fixed monthly price. Under that scenario, DRM is still needed to keep the music playing for subscribers while silencing the tunes for those failing to renew their subscriptions. So far, the company hasn’t said whether it will try to remove DRM from subscription tracks.

But while Napster’s plans seem to make sense, it’s Sony BMG’s announcement that the label will offer non-protected tracks online that has people scratching their heads wondering what the …?

That’s because Sony BMG isn’t just stripping DRM from its online offerings. No, that would be too simple. Instead, the label is selling a plastic card, called Platinum MusicPass, that provides the user with a PIN number needed to activate the download.

And how does one get a Platinum MusicPass? You go to a participating retail store and buy one. Then you log on to Sony BMG’s new online music site – – to download the music formatted as MP3 files.

Evidently the concept that online music is supposed to be easy and simple hasn’t made an impression on Sony BMG execs.

But that shouldn’t come as a surprise to veteran Sony watchers. Back before it acquired BMG, Sony used a proprietary DRM – ATRAC – when it launched Sony Connect, an online music store to complement its own line of personal music players. However, the world wasn’t ready to mess around with yet another reason for player incompatibility and last summer the label dropped ATRAC protection from tracks sold at its online music store.

Platinum MusicPasses, which are only good for entire albums, will be priced at $12.99, and some downloads will come with value-added features. The label also plans on selling artist-specific MusicPass cards for $19.99. Under that plan, in addition to value-added material, customers will also be able to pick a second album from the artist’s catalog at no additional charge. The first two artists / albums under this plan are Celine Dion’s Taking Chances and Kenny Chesney’s Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates.

So here you have Sony BMG, the last major label to eschew DRM, but the label is requiring customers to jump through several hoops, including getting off their duffs and actually visit a brick and mortar store, to buy and download a CD for either $12.99 or $19.99 depending on the perks bundled with the purchase. And online music is supposed to be easy? That is, easier than firing up a P2P client and going for that one-click-discount?

Apparently, Thomas Hesse, Sony BMG Global Digital Business & U.S. Sales president, thinks so.

“The MP3 files delivered through MusicPass play on computers, as well as on all MP3 players, including iPods,” Hesse said. “This makes them a simple, easy to use solution that will appeal to fans who already access their music on the Internet, as well as to consumers who are just getting into the digital realm.”