Blubster: New Kid In Download Land

Digital music, copyright, mp3, cd, compact disk, rights CBS

Despite the threat of lawsuits from the recording industry, music fans across the country continued to swap songs illegally over the Internet, many taking precautions to remain below the radar.

File-sharing sites reported some dips in traffic over the past few days, but the reduced number of hits is far from the shutdown the recording industry wants to see in its campaign to stop free downloads, instead of purchases, of copyrighted music.

The recording industry's threat to find out the names of downloaders and sue them has generated a defiant reaction among some swappers, who are busily writing code to create a new crop of file-sharing services capable of shielding the identity of their users.

Filetopia already promises to do just that, and another, called Blubster, launches Monday.

Blubster.com sends site visitors a mixed message. On the one hand, its home page announces a copyright for its own material and goes on to say that "Blubster.com does not condone activities and actions that breach copyright owners, and it is user's responsibility to obey all laws governing copyrights in each country."

But Blubster, which calls itself as a peer-to-peer network to spread culture and music, also tells site visitors that it operates without a central server on a system allowing "a user's identity to remain private, which makes all the file-sharing process completely anonymous."

Anonymity is also assured when you don't download anything at all but that choice apparently has yet to catch on.

Kazaa, the most popular software for file sharing, saw a significant decline in user traffic during the first 10 hours following Wednesday's announcement by the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the major music companies. But traffic bounced back within 24 hours.

From Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning, the number of users signed on to the FastTrack network - the system that supports Kazaa and Grokster - fluctuated between 3.4 million and 4.4 million, according to figures reported by Kazaa.

"The numbers have been consistent-to-normal fluctuation," said Richard Chernela, a spokesman for Kazaa parent Sharman Networks.

Grokster saw downloads increase Thursday between 5 percent and 10 percent, said the company's president, Wayne Rosso.

Recording industry officials said Friday they don't expect their campaign to produce change overnight.

"This is a long-term effort," said RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss. "We are committed to communicating the message that offering copyrighted music online is illegal. It hurts artists, songwriters and everyone else who brings music to the public, and we will hold those who engage in this activity accountable."

The RIAA said it would file several hundred lawsuits against individuals within eight to 10 weeks seeking financial damages of up to $150,000 per copyright song.

The plan was met with skepticism in some quarters.

"The recording industry is not going to win if all they do is sue people," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a Washington-based advocacy group on technology and copyright issues. "They can sue all they want, but that's not going to make CD sales go up."

In the past, the industry went after the file-sharing services themselves, succeeding in shuttering pioneer Napster. But newer services like Grokster and Morpheus have managed to dodge the courts so far by decentralizing their systems and arguing they had no control over usage.

The RIAA hopes that by going after users directly, it can end the rampant piracy it blames for a three-year slump in music sales.

"If the recording industry succeeds in their goal of making large numbers of people feel unsafe in their file sharing, it's a safe bet that someone will come along to fill the sudden demand for an easy, safer way to use P2P," said Adrian Lamo, 22, a communications researcher from San Francisco.

For now, many users of file-sharing services say they take some precautions, but remain undeterred.

"I don't think that I trade in the volumes that they would be interested in," said Alec Cumming, 24, a Los Angeles film restorer who estimates he has 200 downloaded songs on his computer. "If they really went after me, I would pretty likely stop. I'm not making any money off of it."

Others hoped to skirt the RIAA's sweep, which is initially targeted at those who share "substantial" collections of MP3 files, by simply disabling the sharing feature on their software - something the RIAA hopes will mean fewer songs available on the networks.

"I turned (the feature) off because they're on their witch hunt, and I think the witch hunt will die off and prove to be just that," said Jeff Gregory, a Web editor in North Palm Beach, Fla., who uses Kazaa.

  • Melissa Cheung

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