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Friday, 6 April, 2001, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Napster rivals fail to fill vacuum
Bearshare: A popular alternative to Napster
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters

As the world's largest music publishers continue to put a squeeze on the file-sharing service Napster, other less high-profile services continue to flourish.

Napster allows users to search for and swap music files stored on the hard drive on their computers.

Gnotella: A high failure rate of downloads
Music publishers have successfully argued in court that their copyright on songs are being threatened and they are losing millions of pounds in revenue.

The US Supreme Court has ordered Napster to block access to thousands of songs.

But similar services such as Gnutella, Gnotella and Bearshare are performing a similar function to Napster without the media attention.

Music files

It is important to remember that these are not websites but computer programs that are downloaded from the internet.

It is also important to remember that exchanging copyright material other than for personal use is illegal. Exchanging other types of files, such as your own music files, is not illegal.

The websites themselves do not store any music files, but the computer program allows you to search for files.

Gnutella: One of the first Napster rivals
The reason Napster became so phenomenonally popular was its ease of use. Anyone could quickly start downloading music files, creating a virtual jukebox.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the other services.

Bearshare and Limewire are difficult to use and have a very poor success rate.

It is not just difficult to perform a search for any kind of file, it is rare to successfully download a file.

Often you can be halfway through downloading a file when it crashes.

'More productive'

Gnotella is a little more productive but is difficult to download and install. Users have to trawl through a maze of screens before being able to download the programme and there are a variety of complex settings before you can start downloading files.

Aimster is another download service, offering users the chance to swap files. But Aimster only works between users who are regularly in contact with each other, limiting who is swapping files.

Of course, the real problem is that unlike genuine and legal music sources, CDs for example, you cannot be sure what you have to listen to until you have downloaded it.

For many people it is a frustrating and fruitless exercise, the quality is often appaling and the songs are badly ripped from CDs.

Attempts by the music industry to legitimise music swap services, even though they will be subscription or pay as you go services, are to be welcomed.

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