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Morpheus auditions for new music role

The file-trading network hopes that adding anti-copying technology to its software and services will entice indie artists to distribute their music through the network.

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StreamCast Networks, the creator of the popular Morpheus file-trading software, on Thursday unveiled a plan that it hopes will help it become a more legitimate means of music distribution.

As previously reported, the company is adding digital rights management, or anti-copying technology, to its set of software and services. It's calling for independent artists to distribute their work through the Morpheus file-trading network, using this technology to help solicit payment for their work and guard against piracy. To that end, the company said it has signed a distribution deal with CD Baby, which sells CDs by independent musicians via the Web.

"I think we are a distribution network and a way to create a level playing field" for independent artists, StreamCast CEO Steve Griffin said.

With its new technology, the company is moving down a path well worn by Napster. As that file-trading service came under fire by the recording industry for allowing illegal trades of copyrighted works, it too mounted a campaign to solicit support from independent artists who used it to distribute their work.

Several musicians gave Napster permission to let their work be traded, as well their endorsements, and the start-up paid some artists and labels for use of their work. The company pointed to this as proof that the file-trading technology had "substantial non-infringing uses," which could have been one legal shield in court. But it wasn't enough to keep a federal judge from ordering restrictions on the company severe enough to shut down its service last July.

Griffin said the new indie-promotion service was a business decision, and any legal by-product was "not the intent for doing it." StreamCast, along with two other file-swapping companies, is being sued by the big record labels and Hollywood movie studios in a federal court in Los Angeles.

Morpheus has been in the spotlight in recent weeks after its file-swapping network, once deemed nearly impossible to shut down, went black almost overnight. The mystery sent ripples of confusion and anger through the Morpheus audience, which numbered in the tens of millions.

Griffin said that his software and its users were being "attacked," and he pointed the blame at the Dutch software company that had created the peer-to-peer technology that served as the core of the Morpheus program. That company, Kazaa, later said StreamCast hadn't paid its software licenses.

StreamCast's new promotion plan is scheduled to kick off April 1, at the same time it releases a long-awaited new version of its Morpheus software. The current "Preview Edition," which taps into the open-source Gnutella file-trading network, was rushed out early this month to replace the mysteriously defunct previous version.

The company will launch a new MusicCity.com independent music promotion page, initially featuring 10 artists including 1980s one-hit-wonder and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Thomas Dolby, Griffin said.

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