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Mashboxx opens beta test scheme

Legal P2P client uses Shawn Fanning's Snocap, with added EMI

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Exclusive Snocap, Napster creator Shawn Fanning's attempt to build a legal P2P music-sharing network, has signed major recording company EMI.

Separately, Mashboxx, the first P2P software to leverage Snocap's tracking technology, launched a public beta-test programme today, calling on interested parties to sign up to express their interest in participating.

The British giant joins Universal and Sony-BMG as major-label users of the system, which allows them to track anyone sharing their content and force downloaders to cough up for the privilege.

More recently, a stack of prominent US independent labels, including Gammon Records and Absolutely Kosher Records, along with Artemis Records, Streetbeat Records/Pandisc/Kriztal Entertainment, Nacional Records, Nettwerk Records, OM Records/Deep Concentration, Reality Entertainment and TVT Records.

Snocap announced its service in December 2004, though the service has yet to go live through P2P providers. Once such is Mashboxx, the company set up by former Grokster CEO Wayne Rosso, which uses Fanning's technology to reveal which shared songs are being monitored on behalf of Snocap's label customers.

Download a track that is, and Mashboxx's software swaps in a DRM-protected version that invites you to pay to listen, to burn or whatever usage the copyright holder permits. In all other respects, it's a standard P2P app, able to access all of the major P2P networks and, crucially, trade content not monitored by Snocap just as any other P2P client does.

It's an interesting approach, in that it targets the downloader rather than the sharer. The goal is not to stamp out sharing - which is, for now, the Recording Industry Ass. of America's policy - but to tap the system as a way of reaching new paying customers.

As always, there are ways around it, but it works on the principle the most downloaders want an easy life and will find it more convenient to cough up 99 cents to hear the track they've just downloaded in stereo and without an annoying voice butting in mid-track to suggest they pay for it. And it's got to be better than sifting through countless bizarrely-titled MP3s that might be what the downloader is after, but probably isn't. In any case, Snocap is smart enough to figure most modifications of the original song and highlight it as a 'protected' track.

Snocap's approach is also different in that it puts the emphasis on labels to take responsibility themselves for the protection of their content, rather than create of closed-world sharing networks - "P2P for pussies", as one industry executive describes them - which are totally safe but appeal to relatively few folk.

The stance of Universal, Sony-BMG and now EMI suggests that major labels are now willing to engage with the P2P world and to take advantage of the opportunity to turn illegal downloaders into legal ones it offers.

With so much of their catalogues being traded already, labels are encouraged to get Snocap to track as much if it as possible, which should make it easier for them to release a lot more old and/or obscure content and still make it pay, because it's made accessible - yes, labels can 'share' their own content too - to far more potential downloaders than even Apple can offer right now. ®

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