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Sharman Networks, the company behind the KaZaA file-swapping service, said its software has been downloaded a staggering 230.3 million times.

In an announcement this week, the company said that the KaZaA Media Desktop has become the most downloaded software, with 230,309,616 downloads worldwide. This means that the company's freeware has overtaken the previous record-holder, ICQ, the predecessor to AOL's Instant Messenger, as well as other all-time favourites like WinZip.

The company said that more than 20 million licences are acquired by KaZaA Media Desktop users per month and that after 16 months in business "Sharman Networks has shown that its business model is both sound and successful."

"The entire Sharman Networks team thanks users worldwide for embracing KaZaA Media Desktop," said Sharman Networks CEO Nikki Hemming. "Our vision from inception was to develop and prove a model for the distribution of licensed content."

"Congratulations go to the entire Sharman team for an outstanding accomplishment," added Hemming. "We will continue to innovate and deliver users the best possible experience, while expanding the choice of licensed content."

Just how many people are using the software is somewhat difficult to determine, since many users have copies on both their home and work PCs, and others have downloaded copies more than once. But to put Sharman's figures into perspective, Microsoft's Windows 95 computer operating system sold just 40 million copies in its first year, making it the fastest-selling software ever.

The company said that the news comes at a key period in the peer-to-peer industry's evolution, noting that in April 2003 a US District Court in California effectively ruled that file-sharing applications are legal. However, there is no sign that the battle between file swappers, those that facilitate file swapping, and the music industry, which accuses them of piracy, will end soon.

The Recording Industry Association of America has had a few victories of its own in recent weeks, including a settlement with a number of students in the US who have agreed to pay more than $10,000 each for designing and running file-swapping services. The record labels also recently won a music piracy case against ISP Version Communications that sought to force the ISP to reveal the names of customers allegedly engaged in music theft. Dozens of other music piracy-related actions are currently underway throughout the world.

Meanwhile, in Europe, a report last week from IDC said that legitimate music downloading over the Internet will grow into a €1.3 billion business in Europe by 2007, accounting for 13 per cent of all music sales. This news comes despite the apparent popularity of KaZaA outside of the US, where there are just 106 million households, less than half the number of copies of KaZaA that have been downloaded.

According to IDC, the European digital music sector has been stymied by a lack of legitimate services, but problems will be shortly overcome and the sector will grow from being worth just €24 million in 2003 to €1.3 billion within the next four years. © ENN

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