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Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Swapping without suing
Metal stars: Metallica has got heavy with Napster users
By BBC News Online internet reporter
Mark Ward

Musicians trying to stop online piracy of their work face a new threat as two UK programmers create an MP3 file sharing system that will be almost impossible to shut down.

The pair hope the system will avoid many of the problems that have dogged the Napster MP3 sharing system.

Napster has been a target for outraged musicians and record companies keen to make an example of those pirating their works.

The Napster system lists all users and the files they are willing to swap on a single server.

Recording artists such as Metallica and Dr Dre have won access to this central listing and helped them identify Napster users pirating their music.

Between them, the two artists found over 500,000 Napster users who they claim were guilty of illegally sharing MP3 files.

Many of those identified by the artists were shut out of the service even though many of them claimed they had been wrongly identified as pirates.

Pop programming

Now, two British programmers calling themselves Xor and RandomDan are hoping to avoid these problems by creating a system, called Metallicster, that has no central server.

Instead, the file system listing who owns what will be distributed across the internet. No single computer will maintain a central directory.

Belle and Sebastian
B&S: An all MP3 LP
The owners of MP3 files will be identified but tracking them across hundreds of computers and launching a legal action will be very difficult.

A spokesman for the British Phonographic Industry said launching a legal action against the writers of the software would be tricky if past legal precedents were any guide.

In the past, British and European courts have ruled that just because something can be used for piracy is no reason to ban it.

Xor, spokesman for the Metallicster project, said the pair were planning to use their summer holiday to work on the system.

"We could hack it together in about two weeks," he said. "But instead we're looking for funding for three months to put a proper effort into it."

Several offers of funding have been made because of the publicity surrounding Metallicster said Xor.

Now they are planning to write the software and then make it available on the internet for people to use as they wish.

Some of what Xor and RandomDan want to do has already been done.

Gnutella is a Linux-based system that allows people to swap any sort of file they want.

But Xor said Metallicster will be less anonymous than Gnutella to avoid the system being used to swap child pornography.

Gnutella identifies people by internet address but these do not always identify just one person.

Pointera from California wants to extend the reach of search engines to include any hard disk in any computer attached to the internet - including the personal files of anyone with a web account.

Pointera claims this would make the internet 30 times bigger than it is now.

Digital decisions

They have no plans to launch their own MP3 file sharing service.

The music industry is currently undecided over the best way to use the internet to boost the popularity of pop stars.

Many record companies are pushing to secure an alternative to MP3 but the cumbersome system has so far found few fans.

Some independent labels are much keener to use MP3 to keep fans in touch with their favourite artists.

This week indie favourites Belle and Sebastian are making an MP3 version of their new album available on the icrunch website.

Old-fashioned CD versions will also be for sale. Also available will be previously unavailable video clips of the band in action.

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04 Jun 00 | New Music Releases
CD Review: Belle and Sebastian
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