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P2P site changes its story

A self-proclaimed file-sharing venture that had received attention in the press as a Napster-like threat to copyright holders turns out to be a publicity stunt.

A self-proclaimed file-sharing venture that had received attention in the press as a Napster-like threat to copyright holders has apparently made an abrupt change of course.

The Honest Thief, based in the Netherlands, claimed in late February that it planned to take advantage of a Dutch appeals court ruling that essentially paved the way for the Netherlands to become a legal haven for file-sharing activities. It would license its peer-to-peer software and provide legal advice for peer-to-peer services.

"Well, guess what? April Fools!" said a note posted Tuesday on the Honest Thief's Web site. "The Honest Thief file-sharing venture was no more than a publicity stunt. Our goal was first and foremost to get some attention for our book: 'The Honest Thief.'" The book, about using "uncommon sense to succeed in business and life," was published in English by Greenleaf Book Group in October 2001.

A music industry group that had been monitoring the site called the P2P project "vaporware."

"We took a wait-and-see attitude," said Allen Dixon, general counsel of IFPI, the trade group representing the international recording industry, and an affiliate of the Recording Industry Association of America. "At the time they made their big splash, there was nothing on their Web site except a lot of talk about what they planned to do. There was nothing going on at all, either legal or illegal, as far as we could tell."

Pieter Plass, the man behind The Honest Thief, could not be reached for comment this week, despite repeated calls.

The Alliant Group, the Texas-based public relations company that Plass hired to promote the site, on Thursday said that it had been caught off guard and expressed dismay at Tuesday's revelation.

"We see no humor in Mr. Plass' disregard for the integrity of the public information process, or in his disregard for our personal and corporate reputations," the firm's president, Steven Eames, said in an e-mail. "We regret having been duped into participating in Mr. Plass' charade and for contributing to any inconvenience this may have caused you."

The Honest Thief site on Tuesday warned that more pranks could be on the way.

"In case you are wondering, yes, it could very well be that we are already working on our next April Fools' Day hoax!"