E.business: Long, Hard Look into a Peer-to-Peer Future

Article excerpt

Byline: Amy Watson

It looks as if the end may be in sight for the popular music file swapping operation napster.com.

After months of controversy and speculation, the US federal Appeal Court has upheld a lower court decision that Napster's song swapping services did infringe copyright and that it could not be allowed to continue to carry on trading in copyright material.

The service has become incredibly popular over the last year. Its user base is enormous and, in one month alone last year, more than 1.3 billion music tracks were downloaded this way.

The service almost came to a standstill as fans logged on in their droves in anticipation of the ruling shutting the service down.

Although the site can continue its operations for the moment as the lower court's original injunction against the service is re-written, soon Napster's free service will be no more.

The future of the site hangs very much in the balance and it remains to be seen whether its deal with German media giant Bertelsmann will see it evolve into a legitimate, fee-paying service or whether it will go the way of the dodo.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which originally brought the case against Napster, is proclaiming the ruling a victory.

While it is true that Napster may soon be gone, its legacy is not likely to be forgotten. Even as the case was going through the US legal system, a variety of Napster-like services were being launched. Gnutella, OpenNap and Bearshare were inspired by Napster but have one big difference.

Unlike Napster there is no central server, so there is no one person to take to court, making it trickier for the record industry moguls to shut them down quite so easily.

To shut down these services The Recording Industry Association would have to sue every person that uses them - not exactly an easy task when there are something like 50 million computers estimated to hold, and share, MP3 files worldwide. …