Internet

New Scour owner unplugs free service

CenterSpan Communications, the new owner of Scour's file-swapping technology, plans to start charging people when the service is relaunched sometime before March.

The free ride is over for Scour users.

CenterSpan Communications, the new owner of Scour's file-swapping technology, plans to start charging people when the service is relaunched sometime before March, a company spokesman said Thursday.

"The world is changing. There are not the opportunities that there once were for the download of free content," said CenterSpan spokesman Keith Halasy. "It's been shown that content holders won't accept a free model."

He added that "any service (that) provides that type of free distribution and access will suffer the same fate that others have been suffering...millions in lawsuits."

It was a lawsuit by the Motion Picture Association of America that forced Scour to shut down in November. CenterSpan bid $9 million for Scour's assets during a bankruptcy auction this week, beating out high-profile music companies such as Liquid Audio.

CenterSpan still plans to use the technology to swap movies and smaller files that require less bandwidth, Halasy said. The company is already preparing content for the relaunch, having reached a deal two weeks ago with online movie aggregator Moviehead.

The new Scour will have digital rights management elements built into the technology. That means 4.5 million registered users might as well trash the application that's sat dormant on their desktops since Scour was deactivated in November.

CenterSpan has already begun testing the new service, code-named C* (pronounced "C star"). It mixes Scour's peer-to-peer file-swapping technology with CenterSpan's "Socket" programming, which it already uses for online gaming.

The C* service will be shown in January to potential investors and business partners, Halasy said. No release date is scheduled so far.

CenterSpan's winning bid took many by surprise. The company is a relative unknown in music circles compared with bidders such as Liquid Audio, whose $5.25 million bid was filed two days late, and Listen.com, which bid $5 million.

Formerly a joystick maker known as ThrustMaster, CenterSpan changed its focus to online gaming in 1998.

Liquid Audio spokeswoman Kim Strop said the company had planned to use Scour for music swapping.

"We're definitely going to keep our ears open for a peer-to-peer technology," Strop said from the floor of this week's Streaming Media West 2000 trade show.

Ric Dube, of Webnoize, called CenterSpan a "virtual unknown" in the music market that may be trying a risky business model.

"Nobody knows if there is a commercial market for the peer-to-peer environments," he said.