File-swappers get their own private club

GlobeDrive's new application lets people trade files in a password-protected, invitation-only environment. But is it legal?

File-swapping gets its own private club Wednesday.

New York-based startup GlobeDrive plans to unveil a version of its peer-to-peer network that will let users swap MP3 files in a private, password-protected, invitation-only environment -- far from the prying eyes of record company executives.

Entertainment industry watchers say the GlobeDrive 2.0 system's added level of secrecy creates a new level of concern for record companies just now coming to grips with the likes of Napster and movie exchange applications like Scour.

GlobeDrive chief executive and founder Yossi Krasnjanski said he's in the early stages of negotiating with record companies about, among other things, copyrights and piracy. "We don't want to get into this situation of aiding and abetting piracy," he said.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the major recording studios, did not immediately return a phone call for comment. The company, launched in August, believes its GlobeDrive 2.0 is a first-of-its-kind application. It lets users access hard drives to both download and upload files.

None of the more popular file-swapping programs -- Napster, Gnutella, Freenet -- lets users upload files to hard drives.

Gartner senior analyst PJ McNealy called the new version's capabilities "a logical next step" in peer-to-peer programming. But, he warned, "security is always a present issue with peer-to-peer".

Users of GlobeDrive 2.0 won't have the freewheeling ability of a Napster, which allows anyone to search any user's hard drive they want. Instead, the system has comparatively draconian security rules.

All of the file swapping takes place among members of private groups. Users who download the GlobeDrive application have to be invited into file-sharing groups before being allowed to access hard drives. And access to each group is unlocked only by a password that is emailed by members of the group.

Groups are also kept secret to the new user. There is, GlobeDrive claims, no way for anyone scouring the site to even know if a group exists. They are not listed in any directories. "No one else even knows that the group exists unless they have been invited to it," Krasnjanski said.

GlobeDrive also issues certificates verifying for the accessed machine that the requesting user is authorised to issue requests, according to company literature. Group members also have control over who gets access to hard drives. The GlobeDrive.com servers control which members can share new information with the group and which members have read-only privileges.

Aside from enabling file uploads, GlobeDrive 2.0 also lets users access each other's peripheral devices, such as printers or fax machines. For instance, a businessman on a trip can print something from a home office's printer, GlobeDrive claims.

On narrow legal turf GlobeDrive has put itself on a rather fine legal tightrope that has proven costly for some file-swapping companies, and deadly for others.

Scour, which allowed for the swapping of movies, is now in bankruptcy courts after it was sued by the Motion Picture Association of America.

MP3.com just settled with the last of the five major recording companies that sued it for alleged piracy. The company paid an estimated $170m (£115m) to settle the claims.

And all five record companies are suing Napster. Bertelsmann, one of the five plaintiffs in the lawsuit, has agreed to drop its claim if Napster sets up a subscription model for its users and forks over a sizeable chunk of any profits.

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