By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - College kids looking for free music may have popularized Internet file-trading software, but the technology is now used by everyone from penny-pinching phone callers to polar explorers.
Even the recording industry is changing its tune as labels that for years have waged a legal war against "peer-to-peer" companies are now allowing authorized technology.
"I never thought you'd hear this from me, but the record industry has, mostly, been fairly cooperative," said Wayne Rosso, who is launching an authorized service called Mashboxx
Peer-to-peer, or P2P, software allows users to connect directly to each others' computers, bypassing the powerful servers that underpin much of the Internet. Web pages, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other material usually stored on servers can thus be made public directly from a user's hard drive.
That makes online communication much simpler, said Steve Crocker, who helped develop an early version of the Internet as a graduate student in the 1960s.
"When you think about the amount of hardware and bandwidth and storage that we all have available on the most common of machines and then you think about how hard it is to actually work together, there's a huge disparity," said Crocker, whose Shinkuro software
High-school teachers in Washington have turned to Shinkuro to develop lesson plans, and researchers on a polar icebreaker have used it to send back photos of unusual ice formations, Crocker said.
Two online standards-setting bodies, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, have developed agendas and other material with Shinkuro, he said.
Skype Technologies' peer-to-peer Internet phone service (
A service called "Freenet Web" (
On March 29, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard the recording industry's case against Grokster, Rosso sat in a nearby hotel room searching the Internet for free music.
Scouring several P2P networks at once, he quickly found and downloaded a copy of the Beatles' "Drive My Car." But the version that came out of his laptop's tiny speakers included a voice-over urging him to buy an authorized copy. One click and 99 cents later, a voiceover-free version of the song filled the room.
Rosso's Mashboxx software is one of several P2P platforms that actually promise to pay record labels when their songs are copied.
Mashboxx relies on a technology called Snocap (
A test version of Mashboxx should be out by May, Rosso said.
Another industry-authorized P2P platform called Peer Impact, currently in an invitation-only test mode, adds an extra incentive: Users get credit toward more music purchases when others copy their songs.
That approach has been used for a year now by a company called Weed (
Users don't need special software to download Weed songs. A band can sell its Weed-encoded songs through its own Web site, but it also makes money when fans copy songs from one another.
"It's completely decentralized," Weed President John Beezer said. "We want people who are interested to find music quickly."
Beezer said Weed has been most successful so far with cult artists like Sananda Maitreya (
Agreements with major labels are in the works, Beezer said. Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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