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Streaming Napster style app hits the Web

Napster imitators are coming thick and fast

Music site WiredPlanet is beta testing a Napster like MP3 file sharing community that uses streaming technology to avoid legal pitfalls.

The software will allow users to search other members' MP3 collections and have the chosen track streamed to them. As this method involves no actual copying of copyright content, the company believes that it is operating within the law.

The MyStation feature on WiredPlanet already lets users create personal streaming 'radio stations' from the company's library of licensed content. However it has signed a deal with Web space provider I-drive.com to allow users to add their own MP3 files to their MyStation playlists. The company's Sideload technology allows users to search the MP3 collections of others in the community and add those files to their playlists.

Listeners will be able to listen to any of the other users' personal stations.

The massive popularity of the MP3 file sharing community Napster has seen the spawning of a host of imitators hoping to cash in on consumers' inexhaustible appetite for free music. However the content providers and copyright holders have woken up to the threat of such systems and are becoming increasingly litigious in defence of their intellectual property.

While Napster is currently undergoing litigation from the Recording Industry Association of America and Gnutella, a Napster style application, was ripped down by AOL after one day on the Web, MP3.com is being sued by .It alleges that its Beam-it application, that allow the owner of a CD to play music from a library of selections that MP3.com has already digitised on its site, is illegal.

The difference between the two services, according to WiredPlanet director of marketing Keith Crosley, is that MP3.com built up a database of files without permission from content owners. The WiredPlanet service merely lets users add tracks to their playlists from other's collections.

WiredPlanet uses an algorithm to ensure its service complies with the Statuary Webcasting License of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This was set up to give Webcasters the same ability as radio broadcasters to pay a blanket fee for all content broadcast.

"You can't play more than two songs from the same artist in a row," explains Crosley, "So you won't be able to listen to the whole Britney Spears album for example."

Streaming rather than downloading audio is seen by many as one of the best way of preventing piracy. However the recently released Streambox software, that allows user to grab RealAudio streams and save then to a hard drive, illustrates the fragility of this position. Crosley admits that "of course this might be possible, we've made it as secure as possible and we also encode files in bitrates that aren't suitable for archivable quality copies."

The music industry is rightly scared of Napster, but only because it's the last remaining business that hasn't woken up to the Web. Will the music industry ever change? Go with Scot Petersen to read the news comment.

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