First, please let us know with what are you trying to format the card. Also the type of card would be useful as well. An SD card for example has a little plastic catch on the left side that sets the card to read only.
When you mention a phone however it could be anything... For nokias for example a card formatted by a PC is often unusable on the phone. I suggest that you try to switch off the phone then before turning on the phone press and hold the abc button and hold it down all the way through the boot up process (when it asks for the pin or gives you the standby menu).
Sony ericsson phone are not normally troubled by this.
As for the error message would you be using Vista ? if this is the case this would be a question of access rights ... are you admin ?
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If you cannot see the pictures on your phone, that is on the memory then you need to format it with the steps below but before that connect the memory card to your pc an save all data there first. when finished with the format replace them back to the phone
NOTE: Format the memory card if you forget the memory card password.
The device will allow you to format and erase the memory card password
without asking for the password during the formatting process.
To format the memory card: 1. Press Menu 2. Select Applications 3. Select Office 4. Select File Mgr. 5. Select Memory Card and press Options 6. Scroll to and select Memory Card Options 7. Scroll to and select Format 8. Select Yes
NOTE: Format the memory card if it intermittently malfunctions (e.g. errors, file corruptions)
The Formatting option will properly configure the memory card for use with the phone.
If you can, plug the memory card into your computer, open it for viewing and delete all files on the card. Then put it in the phone and format it. This is the only way I can think to do it. At least this is what I had to do. Good Luck.
If your memory card is not working properly, back up any data from your device's memory card to your PC, then format the memory card using your Nokia device. Please refer to your device's user guide for information on formatting the memory card.
If you get an error message during the formatting process, or an error message after formatting stating that your device cannot read the memory card volume, please take the memory card to your nearest Nokia service point. Warning: Formatting your memory card will permanently erase all data stored on the memory card. Please back up all data stored on your memory card before formatting. Important: The memory card inside your Nokia device should ONLY be formatted using your Nokia device. Do not attempt to format your memory card on another device such as a PC, otherwise your memory card may not work properly.