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Point, click and swap--digital photos go P2P

A company launches a service that lets people share photos the way file-sharing programs distribute music and video files.

Peer-to-peer technology, made famous by music-sharing networks like Napster, may have found a new lease on life in the digital pictures business.

OurPictures, a Palo Alto, Calif., start-up, on Tuesday plans to launch its service for letting subscribers share pictures over the Internet but without the constraints of e-mail attachments or Web sites.

The idea behind OurPictures, which is set to conclude a three-month test of its service, is that subscribers can post pictures to a network of fellow subscribers who transfer the pictures directly from one computer to another.

"Our belief is that the desktop is the right place where a consumer wants to organize and manage their digital photos--not on a Web site," said John Paul, CEO and founder of OurPictures. "If you have one photo you want a thousands people to see, that's one thing. But a Web site is not the right place to place thousands of photos."

Web sites that offer digital photo organization, storage, editing and printing abound. They include Kodak's Ofoto, Shutterfly and services on major portals like Yahoo.

But OurPictures--a privately held upstart whose investors include Sutter Hill Ventures, Foundation Capital and Legacy Venture--is betting that consumers will find file sharing a better way to edit and circulate large numbers of photos.

"You want the speed of the PC to be able to do that," Paul said. "Up until now it's been too complicated. Now you have one piece of software that's easy to use."

In addition to sharing photos with one another, OurPictures subscribers will be able to digitally send pictures to most Ritz Camera or Wolf Camera retail locations in the United States for printing within four hours. Subscribers also can print with their own computer or get prints by mail through an OurPictures-branded service provided by ClubPhoto in Austin, Texas.

OurPictures charges $19.95 per year for membership and is offering a 30-day free trial. The service is available for use with Microsoft's Windows operating system. A version compatible with Apple Computer's Macintosh OS is planned, but with no target release date.

Mindful of legal problems that music-sharing peer-to-peer sites encountered when users traded copyrighted songs without paying for them, OurPictures sets stringent guidelines on what kinds of pictures subscribers may share.

In its end-user license agreement, OurPictures forbids "content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, harassing, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, vulgar, invasive of another's privacy or right of publicity, infringing of a third party's intellectual property rights...hateful, racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable, encouraging of conduct that could constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, or otherwise violate any applicable local, state, national or international law."

The company isn't the only site offering photo sharing on the peer-to-peer model. In February, a Menlo Park, Calif., start-up called It's The Content launched a service called ShareALot, for which it has a patent pending. Other similar services include How2Share Technologies' Pixpo and Picasa's Hello.