Altnet: Will It Fly?

Ace Ha and Sammy Brazil of the emerging hip-hop group MaddWest don't mind listeners passing around their music for free over the Internet. All they want is a little control.

The Altnet file-sharing system launches Monday to give MaddWest and other artists a greater role in the otherwise free-for-all world of peer-to-peer networking.

Users could trade music, video and other files among themselves just as they do with KaZaA, LimeWire and others. But with Alnet, songs will be coded with digital rights management technology so artists can limit distribution, or even collect fees before a song will play.

Ha said MaddWest will still give music away for free. But he believes Altnet will take "the care and pains" to ensure available copies are "put up in a way we would find satisfactory."

"This is Napster type technology being used above board, with the permission of the copyright holder," explains CBS News Computer Consultant Larry Magid. "File-swapping is like a co-op and it can work, so long as all rights holders are in agreement."

Some analysts wonder if Internet users will tolerate the added hurdles that come with digital rights management. Users with no qualms about downloading illegal files can already find everything from Britney Spears songs to the latest "Star Wars" movie.

"There is clearly a demand for file swapping," said Matthew Berk, an analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix. "Whether or not if you lay on top of it a DRM system people will be keen on using it is another question."

Even so, Kevin Bermeister, president of the Brilliant Digital Entertainment company behind Altnet, believes people will chose legal file swapping, even for a fee, if it is available.

Beginning Monday, Altnet will distribute its search software with new versions of KaZaA. Once installed, when an Internet user does a search on KaZaA, the Altnet search tool will also check whether anything is available through Altnet.

If an item is available, the user would download the file directly from the content provider, such as a record label.

In July, Altnet will begin to ask KaZaA users to voluntarily lend their spare disk space, and install a second piece of software to run the Altnet sharing network. Music and other files from participating content providers will then be saved on the volunteer computers.

The system will allow listeners to get a requested file directly from volunteer computers. If unavailable there, the listener would got directly to the content provider.

Altnet is hoping to initially get about 20,000 volunteer computers. Computers will require a high-speed Internet connection, at least 400 Megahertz of processing power and five to 15 gigabytes of free disk space.

Participants will be rewarded based on how much their computers are used by listeners obtaining files. Bermeister said the heaviest contributors may get free hotel rooms, air fare and similar gifts. Occasional contributors may get movie tickets or discounts on merchandise.

Though Altnet will initially work only with KaZaA, the company is exploring partnerships with others.

Altnet is also developing a version for Linux computers. There are no plans for Apple's Macintosh computers.

  • Francie Grace

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