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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 15:13 GMT
Why MP3 piracy is much bigger than Napster
Napster-alike montage BBC
Napster is not the only way to swap music on the web
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Shutting down Napster will have little, if any, effect on the amount of music being stored and swapped on the net.

On Monday the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld lower court rulings that the Napster pop-swapping service does infringe copyright.

But it stopped short of granting an injunction that would shut down the whole service. Court papers say the ruling is intended to stop Napster "from engaging in, or facilitating others in copying, downloading, uploading, transmitting, or distributing," copyrighted music tracks.

The court papers note that up to 87% of the music shared via Napster is copyrighted.

Internet obstacles

But the US courts face a huge problem if they do want to stop Napster, largely because the company does not control the computers where the copyrighted music is stored.

New Napsters
Substitute indexers for all the Napster servers
Separate centralised networks
Separate decentralised networks
Systems that swap files via instant message networks
Lone websites that host pirated MP3s
Discussion groups such as Usenet and IRC

The Napster program is really little more than a centralised index of all the music on its members computers. This index lists the names of the files users give their MP3s and where they are stored. Anyone downloading files gets them from the computer where they are stored, not direct from Napster.

Stopping Napster providing this index will do nothing about the computers where the offending music is stored. And there is a lot of it. In one month last year over 1.3 billion music tracks were downloaded through Napster.

If the courts force Napster to stop providing this index there are many alternatives on the net that people can turn to. These different programs essentially put a new face, or client, on the Napster network of servers.

Fresh faces

If Napster is shut down all users need to do is use one of these clients and they will be able to get access to the same files. A quick search of the internet will turn up 20-30 different clients for Napster such as MyNapster and Snap.

There are also systems such as Napigator which connect to all the servers listed on Napster and also give access to their own servers that host files unavailable via Napster. Some of these servers have millions of users and gigabytes of files available to download.

Then there are alternative centralised networks that have nothing to do with Napster but let people search for, share and swap files in just the same manner.

While these do not have the 50 million users that Napster counts, many, such as Imesh, have merely millions of users. There are at least 20-30 of these alternative networks.

No target to tackle

As well as centralised swapping networks the web is also home to just as many decentralised swapping networks. These do not rely on an index held on one computer to organise themselves and are much harder to shut down. Gnutella, FreeNet and Newtella all work in this way.

There is also software, such as Aimster, that allows people to search and swap software through instant messaging systems on AOL and Gnutella.

Then finally there are all the sites that host nothing but pirated MP3 sites and the newsgroups where MP3 files are posted and swapped.

So if the court wants to really shut down Napster it will have to remove all the files from all the 50 million computers connected to Napster and all the others that work with all those other networks. The court ruling looks like it is too little, too late.

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See also:

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Napster rivals celebrate ruling
11 Feb 01 | Business
Napster fans rush to download
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