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Thursday, 27 July, 2000, 22:45 GMT 23:45 UK
Making music and money
Mick Jagger
Who will nuture the next Rolling Stones?
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

The music industry faces a huge task if it is serious about stopping people swapping and sharing pirated music online.

Shutting down Napster will make little difference to the amount of pirated music available on the internet.

Not only are there thousands of sites storing MP3 files on the web but Napster's success has prompted many other companies to set up copycat services where music fans can download tracks.

Many of the new services are using technologies and techniques that will make it much harder to shut them down.

Tunes on tap

All the music available on Napster subscribers' machines is listed in a central list or directory.

A few of the Napster copycats
Applesoup
Centrata
Filepool
Freedom
Gnutella
Imesh
Infrasearch
Napman
Open Nap
Pointera
Publius
Webnap
Deleting the directory will not remove the music files on people's machines but will make it much harder for them to find out who is willing to swap what.

But many of the newer Napster copycats are spreading the directory around their subscribers too. In systems such as Freenet and Centrata, there is no central list of who has what.

Creating such a system is technically more challenging when more than a few thousand people are using it.

The Napster database sits on one machine so any requests for information only have to go to one place.

By contrast, a search of the distributed systems involves questioning a significant proportion of all the machines in the network. Unless the system is carefully written, search information can clog and overwhelm it.

Legal warning

But Jolyon Benn, internet and investigations executive at the British Phonographic Institute (BPI), said the Napster court case should serve as a warning for anyone contemplating setting up a similar system.

"Once a legal precedent has been established, people would be foolish to develop copycat services," said Mr Benn. "They will be shut down if they use a central server or users will be prosecuted if not."

Napster backers Bill Bales and Adrian Scott are already funding a rival to Napster called Applesoup that will distribute pirate-proof pop.

Mr Benn said the BPI was watching the Napster case with interest and would decide what legal action to take against Napster-type services when it was concluded.

British copyright is very clear and does not allow the making of copies, he said.

Talent spotting

The recording industry can see the potential of selling and distributing music online, said Mr Benn, but services like Napster were doing more harm than good.

He said that songs not due to be released for weeks were even turning up on Napster and its clones. DJ Craig David's track 7 Days was available on the internet for a couple of weeks before its official launch, he said.

Without money from established artists, record companies will not be able to nurture new talent, said Mr Benn. "The money has to come from somewhere."

In its defence, Napster says its users buy more CDs and typically search out the music of artists they find online. The company claims that users only keep tracks for a few days before swapping them for newer ones.

Record companies are trying to catch up with the runaway success of Napster which now has over 20 million users.

Future proof

EMI, Sony, Universal and BMG are all setting up systems to sell music online. British music site icrunch is using the Windows Media system to protect files downloaded from its site.

"File-sharing technology is not going to go away," said Andrew Robins, marketing manager at content protection company Intertrust. "Artists, creators and the recording industry are going to need to offer something comparable."

But if the recording industry is struggling to cope with the rash of music sharing systems now, the future looks rosier.

Companies such as Intertrust, Liquid Audio and Microsoft are working to embed copy protection systems in telephones, handheld computers, as well as PCs and set top boxes.

"We're trying to ensure that content owners rights are protected where ever that content goes," said Mr Robins.

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