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New Battle Begins Over File-Sharing Programs

A Dutch court orders Amsterdam-based KaZaA to block users from swapping copyrighted music files. But KaZaA says it can't comply.
The next battle between copyright owners and file-sharing programs has begun. A Dutch district court judge has ordered KaZaA in Amsterdam to block users from swapping copyrighted music files, or face fines of more than $40,000 a day. A similar order in the United States against file-sharing company Napster Inc. resulted in the company banning non-approved files and eventually suspending service. But KaZaA says it can't comply with the order, because the nature of its software makes it impossible to isolate users.

KaZaA, like its sister programs Morpheus and Grokster, is based on technology from the Dutch company FastTrack. Unlike Napster, which allowed users to share music files through a directory that resided on its own computers, the FastTrack technology uses a distributed network, with no central servers to shut down or restrict. "It's not even clear to me that the judge's order is feasible," says Aram Sinnreich, analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. "Unlike Napster, there's no centralized information server, so there's no switch you can flick to stop people from sharing."

Sinnreich says the new generation of distributed file-sharing programs may be beyond the scope of litigation. "It is possible for a copyright to be violated, without there being a single individual or company responsible," he says. And technological solutions aren't any better. "The only way to stop it would be to monitor all consumer Internet activity, and that would be a clear violation of privacy." The solution, says Sinnreich, is for companies to attract consumers to a legal alternative by offering things like guaranteed file quality, ease of use, and rapid transfers. "They need to build a better mouse trap," he says. "We don't see this as an impasse."