CenterSpan Communications, the small company that bought the technology assets and brand name of bankrupt peer-to-peer company Scour late last year, has started asking for online beta testers to try out a new version of Scour's file-swapping service.
CenterSpan, which has moved into the peer-to-peer business from a start making video game hardware, hopes to launch its new service by the end of March.
The company has said its version will be a "legal" service, as it hopes to avoid the multibillion dollar lawsuits that helped drive the original Scour out of business at the peak of that company's popularity.
But what that means is still fuzzy.
"It means avoiding $250 billion lawsuits," the company's beta site reads. "We know that if we were to turn on (the file-swapping service) as you enjoyed it before, we'd be slapped with the same headaches that forced Scour to shut it down."
The company has said it wants to work with copyright owners to get permission to distribute music and movies. But the broader definition of a legal service is up in the air and will likely remain so until the record industry's lawsuit against file-swapping service Napster comes to a resolution. As it stands, that lawsuit hampers CenterSpan's and others' abilities to develop new businesses.
So far, one judge has said that the unrestricted file-swapping service maintained by Napster likely would be deemed illegal in a full trial. But an appeals court is reviewing that preliminary decision, and no ruling has been finalized. Napster maintains that what it is doing is entirely legal, while most of the record companies contend that the service violates copyright laws.
CenterSpan's Scour is just one hopeful in the fast-changing peer-to-peer world, even if it has a powerful brand name.
Developers working on the Gnutella software, which allows file swapping without a central server, are hoping to overcome technical issues that have stalled the software for its nearly 1 million users. At least one group says they're close to a new version of Gnutella that will solve many of these problems.
Although Gnutella may be the best-known service still pursuing file swapping without linking to record or movie companies, open-source versions of Napster also continue to dot the Net. Developers working on the anonymity-focused FreeNet also are pursuing their projects.
More work and attention are being poured into finding wholly legal business models for peer-to-peer networks, however.
The Intel-sponsored peer-to-peer working group is meeting Wednesday and Thursday after a long hiatus designed to quell independent developers' fears of chipmakers' control. Intel has launched the peer-to-peer initiative partly to boost the use and importance of individual personal computers, which can take the role of servers in peer-to-peer networks.
Many of the companies initially disturbed by Intel's role are also meeting next week at a peer-to-peer conference sponsored by technology publishers O'Reilly & Associates. Although much of the discussion at that event will center around the legal issues posed by services such as Napster or Scour, many of the companies attending have created similar products that are designed for such tasks as sharing information inside corporations.
The new Scour service will offer access to music and videos, as did Scour's popular Exchange service, CenterSpan says. But how many and what kind are unspecified.
"We know the rules are going to change," the site says. "What that means as far as what's free and what isn't hasn't been determined."
The original Scour service, partly funded by Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz, was Napster's biggest competitor for some time. But after being sued by the recording and movie industries for contributing to copyright infringement, funding for the company dried up, and it was eventually forced to seek bankruptcy protection.