Forget Napster, FreeNet is really scary...

As Napster gets ready for a round in the courts, successors are lining up. One of them in particular may prove a harder target to hit than Shawn Fanning's invention. Will Knight reports

A Napster-style technology which makes it almost impossible for users to be traced or identified is causing more headaches for the music industry.

A spokeswoman for the Music industry watchdog the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), has admitted to ZDNet that it is concerned by several Napster clones, but one in particular: FreeNet.

FreeNet is an open source, peer-to-peer file sharing network technology, developed by Scottish academic and cyber-liberty enthusiast Ian Clarke.

Unlike Napster, Freenet has no central server, but moves information around from node to node without identifying source or destination. Users request information by sending keywords to a node, which then passes them along to adjacent nodes. This carries on until one reports it has a matching file, at which point a copy of file is passed back along the chain of nodes until it reaches the requester. According to Clarke, this makes it virtually impossible to identify individual users or what they are sharing.

"I have been thinking about it for a while and can't think of a way to trace a user," says Clarke. "The consumer and producer [of transferred information] are anonymous so it is very difficult to tell where information is being stored." The IFPI is not impressed. "We're particularly concerned about this [technology]. Its kind of like Napster but you can't tell where information is. We've looked very closely at it."

Despite initial concerns, Clarke is not concerned about being the target of litigation, Napster style. He says being an open source technology, FreeNet would be very hard to shut down.

"Even if someone put a gun to my head and said shut it down, I couldn't. There's no incentive to come after me because I can't do anything more than them," he says.

In the US, the legal case against Napster has been brought by rock band Metallica and rap artists Dr Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog. Other US musicians, including Public Enemy's Chuck D, have leaped to Napster's defence suggesting that the industry should adapt to such new technology instead of trying to ban it.

Emusic.com's 24 year old CEO Gene Hoffman says MP3s are all about convenience -- not piracy, lawsuits or free music. Go to AnchorDesk UK and read the news comment.

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