New age file-sharing

Napster was killed two years ago by the music industry, but will be reborn with their support later this year. Though details were not announced by press time, it is clear Napster 2.0 comes late to a game already dominated by other players the industry inadvertently set up.

Users of the original Napster relied on Napster servers to dole out the locations of files (copyrighted or otherwise), providing a single point of failure by which the Recording Industry Association of America took down the first popularly used file-sharing network. Shortly thereafter, the file-sharing community responded with a plethora of new file-sharing networks and applications, all of which relied on users’ computers to be the servers.

This summer, a new front opened in the war on file-sharing. Without a single target to attack and emboldened with new powers granted by Congress, the RIAA–representing many but not all contemporary musicians–sued individual file swappers, using the threat of lawsuits to scare others away from file-sharing.

So far, 261 users in the United States have been sued. A few have settled out of court for several thousand dollars each, including several college and university students. Others, such as a SAIT student who was reportedly threatened with legal action by the RIAA, have simply ignored the coercion, relying instead on different copyright laws in Canada.

The RIAA’s holy war against file-sharing may intimidate some online listeners but options remain, including Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes Music Store, artists and labels which distribute their music under one of the "free" licenses, Internet newsgroups and newer peer-to-peer services which thwart the RIAA’s file-sharing trackers.

Legal music services

In addition to Apple’s iTunes launched earlier this year, two industry-backed online music services are available., a collaboration by the big five Canadian music labels, along with some independents, will offer 250,000 songs for $0.99 each or $9.99 per album when it debuts on Tue., Oct. 14.

Already in operation is Vivendi Universal’s EMusic, which offers a subscription service for US$9.99 per month and a free trial subscription to over 250,000 songs.

The Open Music Registry

Increasingly, artists are licensing and distributing their work under so-called "open" licenses, which allow and encourage the listener to copy or distribute music in addition to just listening. According to the Open Music Registry–a listing of artists who release works under open licenses–"self-promotion, sharing art with the world without worrying about money issues, making a statement against commercial entertainment, collaboration with other artists, or giving something to fans in appreciation for their past support" drive the release of open music. Currently, independent labels and artists dominate open music, although some mainstream artists have noticed this new distribution model.


Newsgroups are one of the oldest Internet applications, pre-dating the World Wide Web by about a decade, and one of the most rewarding for patient users. Users can’t get instant gratification by searching for "Justin Timberlake" to get his latest screechfest single but a proficient newsgroup user can request and obtain almost any digital music or video file within 48 hours without slow downloads, transfer quotas, or misnamed files instead of the desired item. For the passive downloader, complete albums and movies are posted on a daily basis in the several dozen newsgroups, each of which is devoted to a different genre.

As a bonus, the RIAA’s current peer-to-peer tracking technologies are unable to track newsgroup downloads without cooperation from Internet service providers. Newsgroup uploaders are as easy to track as KaZaa uploaders.

Newsgroup clients: (Free Agent, Windows) (Mozilla, all platforms)

Anonymity has become an increasingly important factor in file-sharing due to the RIAA’s desire to reduce copyright violations. To give or receive a file from another computer, both must know each others’ addresses on the Internet, a feature the RIAA exploits to track and document their targets’ file-sharing activities. Backed by new legislation and file-sharers’ Internet addresses, the RIAA can compel ISPs to disclose the file traders’ real-life identities, opening the door to legal action. For this reason, truly anonymous file-sharing applications have become more popular.


Filetopia uses a combination of strong cryptography and a network of relays called "bouncers" to conceal the information being transmitted, and to hide the Internet addresses of the sender and recipient from each other. Based in Spain, Filetopia has been operating since March 1999 though it has only recently become popular for its anonymous capabilities. Unfortunately, the anonymity offered by Filetopia will slow downloads due to encryption/decryption and the number of bouncers required for each transfer.


"ENTROPY stands for ‘Emerging Network To Reduce Orwellian Potency Yield’ and as such describes the main goal of the project," according to its creators.

What distinguishes ENTROPY and Freenet–on which ENTROPY runs–is the way in which it stores and delivers content to users. Small, unknown pieces of data are stored on each user node and are assembled only when a specific file is requested, so users never know what files reside on or pass through their computer, and no record is kept of who downloaded what. Another key feature is its ease of use, as the interface is any standard web browser.

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