By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - College kids looking for free music may have
popularized Internet file-trading software, but the technology is now
used by everyone from penny-pinching phone callers to polar explorers.
Even the recording industry is changing its tune as labels that for
years have waged a legal war against "peer-to-peer" companies are now
allowing authorized technology.
"I never thought you'd hear this from me, but the record industry has,
mostly, been fairly cooperative," said Wayne Rosso, who is launching
an authorized service called Mashboxx http://www.mashboxx.com while
the US Supreme Court considers the entertainment industry's copyright
suit against Grokster, his old peer-to-peer company.
Peer-to-peer, or P2P, software allows users to connect directly to
each others' computers, bypassing the powerful servers that underpin
much of the Internet. Web pages, spreadsheets, PowerPoint
presentations and other material usually stored on servers can thus be
made public directly from a user's hard drive.
That makes online communication much simpler, said Steve Crocker, who
helped develop an early version of the Internet as a graduate student
in the 1960s.
"When you think about the amount of hardware and bandwidth and storage
that we all have available on the most common of machines and then you
think about how hard it is to actually work together, there's a huge
disparity," said Crocker, whose Shinkuro software
http://www.shinkuro.com allows people in different locations to work
on the same document. Encrypted communication keeps snoops and hackers
High-school teachers in Washington have turned to Shinkuro to develop
lesson plans, and researchers on a polar icebreaker have used it to
send back photos of unusual ice formations, Crocker said.
Two online standards-setting bodies, the Internet Engineering Task
Force and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers,
have developed agendas and other material with Shinkuro, he said.
Skype Technologies' peer-to-peer Internet phone service
( http://www.skype.com ) allows users anywhere in the globe to talk to
one another for free.
A service called "Freenet Web" ( http://freenet.sourceforge.net )
helps people communicate in countries like China, where online content
is rigorously censored. Users donate portions of their hard drive to
host Web pages and other files, and the software keeps their
On March 29, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard the recording
industry's case against Grokster, Rosso sat in a nearby hotel room
searching the Internet for free music.
Scouring several P2P networks at once, he quickly found and downloaded
a copy of the Beatles' "Drive My Car." But the version that came out
of his laptop's tiny speakers included a voice-over urging him to buy
an authorized copy. One click and 99 cents later, a voiceover-free
version of the song filled the room.
Rosso's Mashboxx software is one of several
P2P platforms that actually promise to pay record labels when their
songs are copied.
Mashboxx relies on a technology called Snocap ( http://www.snocap.com )
that can identify songs by their digital "fingerprints" and allow
copyright owners to control them as they wish. A record label could
decide to make a low-fidelity version of the song available for free,
for instance, or let the song play three times before requiring a
A test version of Mashboxx should be out by May, Rosso
Another industry-authorized P2P platform called Peer Impact,
currently in an invitation-only test mode, adds an extra incentive:
Users get credit toward more music purchases when others copy their
That approach has been used for a year now by a company
called Weed ( http://www.weedshare.com ), whose format has proven
popular with independent artists.
Users don't need special software to download Weed songs. A band can
sell its Weed-encoded songs through its own Web site, but it also
makes money when fans copy songs from one another.
"It's completely decentralized," Weed President John Beezer said. "We
want people who are interested to find music quickly."
Beezer said Weed has been most successful so far with cult artists
like Sananda Maitreya ( http://www.sanandapromotion.com ), formerly
known as Terence Trent D'Arby.
Agreements with major labels are in the works, Beezer said.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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