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Start-up to tune Napster fans into Net radio

As Napster prepares to pull song files off its music-swapping service, a new application could put recording power in the hands of Net radio fans.

    As Napster prepares to pull song files off its music-swapping service, a new application could put recording power in the hands of Net radio fans.

    The free software application, set to launch Monday from Internet research and development company The Audio Mill, will work like a VCR for Internet radio. Music fans will be able to search for their favorite artists from a list of thousands of Internet radio stations and then record songs onto a computer.

    The launch comes as copyright infringement turns into a heavily pitted battleground. The fight between Napster and the record industry is raging, with others attempting to take a piece of the file-swapping company. On Wednesday, online music distributor EMusic followed the producers of the Grammy Awards onto the field by filing a lawsuit against Napster.

    Jupiter Research analyst Aram Sinnreich said RadioActive could potentially face legal issues surrounding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a controversial law backed by music companies and other large copyright holders that prohibits anyone from cracking code designed to protect copyrights.

    "Clearly somewhere along the line the DMCA is being violated there," Sinnreich said. "The DMCA offers a compulsory license for online radio that assumes the songs are transient, and as soon as you give someone the ability to make those songs permanent, you're breaking the spirit of the law."

    Nevertheless, The Audio Mill, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is betting that its RadioActive application will attract music fans with its easy search and record features. A consumer can go to the RadioActive Web site, download the software application onto the computer, and begin searching for favorite artists from the Internet radio stations. The consumer could then record the songs.

    The company said it differs from Napster in that it has taken steps to ensure the recording is personal by locking content on a computer and preventing distribution.

    "We've all been using VCRs for 20 years, and we know exactly how they work," said Richard Wolpert, an investor in The Audio Mill and former president of Disney Online as well as former CEO of CheckOut.com. "This is implementing the same thing in an electronic way."

    Although The Audio Mill is not directly working with radio stations, the company said it is in preliminary discussions with the record labels and hopes to work with artists to have them compensated in some way. It also expects RadioActive to create commerce opportunities.

    RadioActive "helps the music discovery process," said The Audio Mill Chief Executive Bill Putnam Jr. "That's going to help people find music, and at the end of they day, it facilitates music commerce."

    Jupiter's Sinnreich said that depending on the quality of the files, it could be a "great tool" to drive sales; the company said the recordings will not be CD quality.

    "The application itself is very cool from a consumer standpoint," Sinnreich said. "Radio has always been a transient medium, and it's certainly been known for decades that radio drives a lot of CD sales...If you give the consumer the ability to grab a song from radio play and say, 'Wow, I really like this,' then you have the capacity to turn that listener into a buyer."