Huge increase in music swaps over the Net despite demise of Napster

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The Independent Online

Even more music and video files are being swapped online since the court-ordered closure of the file-swapping site Napster – casting a gloomy light over the record labels' hopes of reining in internet-based music piracy and replacing it with their own subscription services.

Even more music and video files are being swapped online since the court-ordered closure of the file-swapping site Napster – casting a gloomy light over the record labels' hopes of reining in internet-based music piracy and replacing it with their own subscription services.

More than three billion files were downloaded free in August over the three biggest file-swapping services, which typically had 1.3 million people logged on at any time, says Webnoize, a consulting company based in Massachusetts.

That compares with Napster's high in February, just before it shut, when it was used to trade 2.79 billion files by 1.57 million simultaneous users.

Even worse for the music industry is that the new services lack the one thing that made Napster a perfect legal target – a central controlling company that holds all the data about who is downloading what. Matt Bailey of Webnoize said file-sharing via post-Napster systems would surpass their forebear this month. "Doing this is still incredibly popular," he said. "While the closure of Napster may have temporarily put a brake on the growth of file-swapping, we now have a new network better than Napster ever was." That network could make it near-impossible to weed out online file swapping. And that in turn imperils the viability of paid-for music online being organised by the big labels, including Bertlesmann, EMI, AOL Time Warner, Sony and Universal Group.

They hope to launch subscription services, called Pressplay and MusicNet, before Christmas. Users would be able to listen to music – stored in a proprietary format – but not create CDs from it or pass it to other people. However, this is what people are now doing in ever-growing numbers, Webnoize has found.

Although the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which successfully sued Napster, has now filed suits against Kazaa, MusicCity and Grokster, it faces the uncomfortable truth that even if it shuts the services, their software will live on.

Hilary Rosen, the RIAA's chief executive, called the systems a "21st-century piratical bazaar" and said: "We cannot sit idly by while these services continue to operate illegally, especially at a time when new legitimate services are being launched."

The record labels are exploring alternatives that make impossible the creation of MP3 files from music sold in shops, including inaudible encoding on CDs and the release of "DVD Audio" records.

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