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iMesh almost ready to become paid file-swap network

Six months after settling with the RIAA, venerable P2P is still swapping freely. But filters are on the way.

For more than six months, Israel's iMesh has been the strangest of beasts in the file-swapping world: a fully functioning peer-to-peer network operating with the blessing, albeit temporary, of the recording industry.

That status is coming slowly to an end. The company is working to build a record-label-approved peer-to-peer service, using song-filtering company Audible Magic's technology to help turn unauthorized music trades into revenue for record labels.

Originally expected by the end of last year, the song-sales service is taking longer than predicted. Company executives declined to comment on the details of the service, but said that progress on the new service has been satisfactory.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which settled a copyright lawsuit against iMesh last July on the condition that the company change its service, said it would wait a little longer.

"We're willing to give them time to make it work," said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the RIAA.

The RIAA's flexibility in allowing more than half a year to pass is a sign of just how much importance record executives attach to bringing at least a few file-swapping services into the industry fold. Past settlements and court judgments against peer-to-peer companies have typically resulted in networks shutting down or trading their unfiltered file-swapping system for something else.

Also, iMesh may have benefited from the uncertain status of the law on file-swapping companies. Several federal courts have ruled that peer-to-peer companies are not legally liable for the widespread copyright infringement of people using their software, and the matter is slated to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 29.

The new iMesh is one of several file-swapping services being given a qualified green light by the recording industry, in return for blocking music piracy and putting price tags on downloads.

A service called Mashboxx, headed by former Grokster president Wayne Rosso, is also being developed with an eye toward using peer-to-peer swapping to sell music. That service is expected to use Napster founder Shawn Fanning's new Snocap technology, which is designed to identify songs so swaps can be turned into sales.

Today's iMesh have included part of the company's new product, although that's not immediately clear to consumers. Executives say their software's latest updates are based on a new technology platform that will serve as the foundation of the new service, once it launches. They've also taken out all the bundled advertising software that has typically drawn complaints from users fearful of spyware.

If completed as planned, the new iMesh would be the first peer-to-peer service to integrate the song-identification technology from Audible Magic, a company whose filters have promoted by the RIAA in the past as a possible way to block illegal swapping across other networks.

Despite the looming changes in its service, iMesh has remained popular. According to Download.com, a software aggregation service owned by News.com publisher CNET Networks, the software was downloaded more than 715,000 times last week.