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Grokster, Sony BMG to do legit P2P service?

RIAA-attacked software provided confirms talks

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Sony BMG - aka 'Bony' - the merged music label is in talks with Grokster, the P2P software company has confirmed. Negotiations are believed to be focused on the development of a new, label-friendly P2P network.

If launched, the service - said to be called Mashboxxx - would provide both free material and contact with a price-tag attached, according to an Associated Press report citing sources close to the talks.

The Mashboxxx name may not make the final cut, since some crafty so-and-so has already nabbed it - on 29 October 2004, no less.

It's not clear yet how the service would work. Given the Grokster connection, P2P has to be a strong part of the mix, but with a DRM component. Undoubtedly, the client code would block the sharing of unauthorised material, allowing other files to be traded in the usual way. Suitably programmed DRM rules might allow anyone to download a song, play it once or twice, and then require payment before copying to a CD, digital music player or for further listening on the PC.

The Bony/Grokster service is said to utilise digital fingerprinting technology ensure only authorised files are shared. In the UK, music service Wippit has been taking this 'walled garden' approach for some time now, using it as the basis of its MP3-based unlimited download subscription service. Mashboxxx's technology partner is believed to be Snocap, the company set-up by Napster founder Shawn Fanning.

This is the kind of thing Grokster has had its eye on for some time and represents the kind of deal the music industry might have been able to build with a variety of P2P companies if it hadn't got so stuck in its 'P2P = bad' mantra in the early Napster days. Certainly, a number of P2P companies have tried to license content to enable it to be shared openly, but have thus far stumbled partly on label hostility and partly on the sheer complexity of setting up a broad licensing scheme.

Protected P2P services are already emerging - Faircopy and Weed, for example - but the Bony/Grokster deal, if it succeeds, marks the first time a major label has been willing to get involved.

Back in April 2003, then Grokster CEO Wayne Rosso told The Register he'd been talking to a high-placed music industry executive about this kind of thing, and had received a broadly favourable response. Only the music business' extreme sensitivity to any reference to P2P prevented him from naming said executive. The AP report's sources name him as Bony CEO Andrew Lack. ®

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