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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 12:49 GMT
Napster creator reveals next step
Shawn Fanning in 2001
Former Napster creator Shawn Fanning was reviled by music labels
Napster creator Shawn Fanning has spoken publicly about his new project - a licensed file-sharing service with an almost unlimited selection of tracks.

The new technology gives consumers greater access to licensed downloads, while affording the record labels some degree of control over file-sharing.

Mr Fanning, now head of Snocap Inc., became the scourge of the recording industry for his Napster software.

"We're trying to basically open the market up," he said on Thursday.

Mr Fanning founded Napster - which enabled internet users to share music and other files as a 19-year-old in 1999.

But it went offline in 2001 after a series of court actions over copyright issues. The Napster name and logo is now used for a separate, legitimate download service.

Mr Fanning said the biggest drawback of licensed digital music services, such as iTunes and the new-look Napster, is the limited number of tracks available in comparison to unlicensed file-sharing services like Kazaa and Morpheus.

"There's nothing out there offering a content experience with the breadth and content on peer-to-peer thus far," said Mr Fanning.

"It is clear something is missing."

Lost revenue

Screen grab of Kazaa's website
Record labels are suing the firm behind file-swapping software Kazaa
Despite a recent surge in music downloads, the amount of music purchased from licensed services is still dwarfed by extensive file-sharing activities.

After years of blaming file-sharing services for billions in lost revenue, music labels are now looking at various ways to legitimise these services.

Mr Fanning says his system allows a legalised exchange of songs while enabling record labels to block unauthorised versions of their music - provided those tracks have been registered with Snocap.

The system uses an "acoustic fingerprinting" technology to identify each track, allowing Snocap to filter out unlicensed or spoof versions of songs.

Universal deal

It also allows record companies to specify restrictions, including how many times a track can be played before the user is required to buy it and whether it can be burned to CD, or shared.

Universal Music Group has already reached a deal to distribute its catalogue online using Snocap's technology.

However, it could prove costly for file-sharing services, who would have to pay record companies a licensing fee, in addition to equipping their software with Snocap technology.

Only one file-sharing service, Mashboxxxx - expected to launch next year - has reportedly shown interest.

"Any kind of central server for a filter is a problem," said Michael Weiss, head of StreamCast Networks, the company behind Morpheus.

"It looks and feels like Napster circa April 2001."

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