Major label breaks file-trading boycott

Capitol Records, a subsidiary of the EMI Group, is in the midst of a promotion with file-trading company Aimster, with the two teaming to promote a new album by Radiohead.

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At least one major record company is wavering from the industry's previously stiff opposition to file-trading services like Napster.

Capitol Records, a subsidiary of the EMI Group, is in the midst of a promotion with file-trading company Aimster, with the two teaming to promote a new album by the band Radiohead. Aimster is a recent player in the file-swapping scene, tapping into America Online's AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ buddy lists to allow trusted groups of individuals to search each others' computers.

It appears to be the first time that a major music label has explicitly teamed with any of the controversial online file-swapping services. The "Big Five" labels--EMI Recorded Music, Sony Music Group, Seagram's Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Bertelsmann's BMG Entertainment--have already sued Napster and Scour, charging that they are businesses "built on piracy."

Under the short-lived promotion, Capitol has authorized a Radiohead-themed "skin," or new interface, for the Aimster software. It's also making a handful of Radiohead video files available on Aimster's Web site.

The promotion isn't listed on Aimster's main site or on Capitol Records' main Radiohead page. But Web surfers downloading the latest version of Aimster's software are given the option of loading the Radiohead theme and are directed to the promotional Web site.

"We're pleased to announce that we've teamed up with Capitol Records to bring you a special Radiohead promotion," reads a message from the Aimster company that accompanies the new software. The video "blips" will be available until tomorrow, it says. On the Web site, a note warns that the videos will only be available until midnight today.

Although short-lived and low-profile as promotions go, the deal appears to be the first warming in what has been a uniformly cool record industry attitude toward file-swapping services.

Napster itself has repeatedly tried to reach some kind of licensing or promotional deal with the major record labels but has been consistently rebuffed. Scour struck a few promotional deals with studios earlier this year but later was sued by studios anyway.

Aimster differs from most of the other services as it creates a file-swapping universe limited to a group of people contained on a AIM or ICQ buddy list.

The program piggybacks on the AOL programs, drawing buddy lists from both services into a master list maintained in the Aimster program. People who have downloaded the program can then chat and trade files with other Aimster users.

AOL has not officially authorized Aimster's software. Representatives for the company have consistently said only that they are aware of the service and are monitoring it.

The Capitol Records promotion stops short of making new Radiohead songs Napster wildfire available freely through the Aimster service. By using Aimster as a marketing tool, however, the label appears to tacitly endorse the service.

But actually releasing songs through the service might not be necessary. The new Radiohead album, scheduled to be released Oct. 3, is already widely available through Napster.

Napster itself will be facing record industry attorneys in appeals court Oct. 2, marking what could be a last-ditch effort to keep its service from being shut down.

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