P2P alliance to counter RIAA?

Sharman Networks, maker of Kazaa software, plans to launch a group to push the case for the peer-to-peer industry in the face of the record labels' campaign.

The company behind the popular Kazaa file-swapping software plans to launch a trade group Wednesday to push the case for peer-to-peer networking.

Kazaa distributor Sharman Networks and partner Altnet hope their new group, called the Distributed Computing Industry Association (DCIA), will help legitimize the much-maligned peer-to-peer industry, which has come under fire from Hollywood, politicians and the recording industry for being a haven for pirates.

Martin Lafferty, the DCIA's chief executive, said the group is hoping to provide a neutral forum where companies that are affected by or involved in peer-to-peer or distributed computing technology can meet to establish business practices, to encourage the adoption of standards and to help shape public policy.

The association hopes to attract peer-to-peer network providers, software makers and Internet service providers as members. It also aims to draft content providers such as the movie studios and record labels. Ideally, members will be optimistic about the business opportunities presented by peer-to-peer technologies, but will also believe that copyright owners should be compensated for their work, according a DCIA white paper.

"Then this becomes a real and rational business and not just something for hobbyists," Lafferty said.

Sharman, which is based in Australia, is the parent company of Kazaa, one of the most popular online file-swapping services. Altnet is a subsidiary of Brilliant Digital Entertainment. Earlier this month, in an attempt to diminish piracy, the two companies jointly released a new bundle of file-swapping software that includes components of a high-security peer-to-peer network, and a program that pays users to be a part of it.

Although peer-to-peer networks have soared in popularity, they've also drawn lawsuits from record and movie companies who say they provide an easy method for people to freely trade unauthorized copies of songs and films. Peer-to-peer companies including Aimster, Napster and Scour have all found themselves on the losing end of entertainment industry lawsuits.

Now, the media industry has expanded its approach to go after individuals who use peer-to-peer networks in addition to chasing the companies that provide the technology.

Just last week, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) warned that it would start gathering information about people using peer-to-peer networks to share music, so it could file thousands of copyright infringement lawsuits against them.

Lafferty said that the DCIA hopes to extend an olive branch to the entertainment companies and work with them to come up with an alternative to litigation.

"It's never a good idea to criminalize your target customers; it's something you kind of do out of desperation," Lafferty said. "It will take the industry somewhat burying the hatchet and sitting down at the table, and the DCIA wants to provide the table."

Lafferty, who once launched a satellite TV industry trade group, said the peer-to-peer market is facing many of the same issues the satellite TV market once did. He said that at first, the satellite TV industry was a hotbed of piracy, with people buying dishes to gain unauthorized access to paid TV programming. But programmers, technology companies, and other players eventually got together to hammer out business plans amenable to all sides, he said.

A representative from the RIAA is hopeful that the new group will help foster a positive dialog with copyright holders.

"Anytime anyone wants to talk to us about becoming legitimate--compensating artists, songwriters and others for their creative works--we are happy to listen," the representative said.

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