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Music-swapping software makes comeback

After being ordered to stop distributing his program that let iTunes users share music over a network, software developer James Speth takes another stab at it.

    If at first you get a cease-and-desist letter, try again.

    That was the approach of Mac software developer James Speth, who was determined to create a program that would allow users of Apple's iTunes jukebox software to share their music over a network.

    In January, Apple Computer ordered Speth to stop distributing his iCommune software, saying that he had improperly co-opted Apple software intended only to allow hardware such as MP3 players to connect to iTunes. Speth took the original program off of his Web site, but pledged to rewrite the program without Apple's code.

    Now, nearly three months later, Speth says he has accomplished his goal, posting online what he says is a program that does the same thing as the original--allows people to share their music libraries within iTunes--only this time without appropriating Apple's code.

    An Apple representative did not immediately have a comment on the new version.

    Even if Speth is able to steer clear of Apple's lawyers, he might incur the wrath of the recording industry, given that the new version allows songs to be downloaded onto a user's hard drive, rather than just played as a streaming music file.

    "There's undoubtedly some potential problems with the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)," Speth said. However, he noted that with iCommune there is no central server that stores the locations of available music, and that the software is open-source, making it difficult to stop the software from proliferating. As for his own liability, Speth hopes the fact that he is not making any money on the effort will keep him out of hot water.

    In a case of unusual timing, the re-emergence of iCommune comes amid speculation that Apple may make a bid to buy the largest of the world's top recording labels, Vivendi's Universal Music Group.

    Speth's program, which was posted Monday on open-source site Sourceforge allows Mac owners to share their iTunes playlists--and the music files associated with them--over a standard network.

    Those who want to make their music available can use iCommune to create a link that can be shared with those who they want to be able to access their playlists. The music then can be made to appear as a playlist within iTunes or can be downloaded using a separate download program.

    Speth said he accomplished this by using a combination of little-known features in iTunes along with code written in AppleScript, the Mac's built-in scripting language.

    Next, Speth said, he'd like to incorporate Apple's open-source Rendezvous technology, which could allow iCommune to automatically discover other users over a network. He also hopes that others will collaborate on the venture, now that he has placed the software code into the open-source community.

    Speth first started working on iCommune in April 2002 as a way to have his iTunes library talk to a Linux-based machine that was connected to his stereo. In the fall, he started working on a broader release that he finished just in time for January's Macworld Conference & Expo. Rewriting the program to exclude Apple's proprietary code took the better part of three months, he said.

    As for what prompts him to keep working on it, Speth says it's just a feature he wants himself and others to have. Apple's legal maneuverings served as added inspiration.

    "With the new version I was highly motivated by not wanting to let Apple have the last word," Speth said. "I'm just trying to make a neat little addition to their system, as I see it."