By Christmas, computer engineers hope to launch a program that could confound those trying to sue the likes of Napster by providing complete anonymity for online music sharers.
The project, titled Tropus, is based on Freenet, a peer-to-peer file sharing technology created by Irish computer programmer and privacy enthusiast Ian Clarke. Freenet is similar to Napster but does not rely on a central server to pass around files. Instead files are passed between individual nodes, or computers, without identifying their source or destination.
This means that a user cannot be linked to the files they are sharing and in theory makes it impossible to pin down a party responsible for its existence. Napster, which operates a central server behind the Napster application, is currently in a legal battle with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for allegedly promoting copyright infringements.
Clarke also claims that Freenet offers scalability and functionality that is superior to other peer-to-peer systems, thanks to clever routing and cacheing systems, although the technology is undergoing testing.
Tropus will attempt to replicate the popularity of Napster by providing similar music searching capabilities and usability. It will bolt onto Freenet and is similarly written in Java.
"Freenet already provides the critical networking and security functions, so all we really need to do is put a nice wrapper around it," says Will Dye, the main programmer behind Tropus. "The hard part is that we'd like it to be friendly and stable enough to be used on the same scale as Napster -- tens of millions of users."