AOL: Faux Napster release 'unauthorised'

Net giant says its music software employees were acting on their own when they made 'Gnutella,' a takeoff on the controversial Napster program.

America Online on Wednesday said members of its Spinner/Winamp music software division were acting on their own when they made a program available that allows users to share digital music files easily. The software, called Gnutella, is said to compete directly with Napster -- controversial software that allows users to swap digital music. Napster's makers are being accused of piracy in a lawsuit filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group representing record companies.

"Gnutella was an unauthorized free-lance project," Spinner/Winamp's general manager, Josh Felser, said through a spokeswoman. "The Web pages that made the software available were taken down yesterday."

Gnutella was designed by the same programmers who created Winamp, which AOL acquired in June 1999. Winamp enables computer users to play digital music in the popular MP3 format, which allows songs to be downloaded without eating up large amounts of storage space.

The spokeswoman declined to comment about when or if the software would be reposted. The software was available through Slashnet, a news and software downloading site.

America Online is in the process of acquiring Time Warner, which has some of the world's largest record labels as its media properties.

A spokeswoman from the RIAA declined to comment.