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Snocap, Napster founder Shawn Fanning's attempt to turn P2P into a legitimate sales channel, has opened its content-monitoring registry to a wider range of content providers.

It's a major step not only in establishing Snocap as a key tool in preventing online copyright infringement but also in building up the company as a business.

Snocap's system essentially leverages existing P2P networks as a distribution and commerce tool for the company's customers. They upload audio files, and Snocap tracks and controls their usage across the network.

The company already has deals in place with major labels Universal, Sony BMG and EMI - it's still talking to Warner - along with a number of the larger indies, such as Rykodisc and Artemis, and this week's announcement opens the door to smaller companies and individual copyright owners.

The services on offer range from a free content distribution blocker through music distribution via retailers and activity tracking, to service customisation. The basic package costs $30 a year, with a 25c per track database fee and a 2.5 per cent royalty from each sale made through Snocap's retailer network.

Snocap's pitch is that P2P networks can still be used by consumers to find new or rare recordings, and be sure they're getting what they're asking for, only this time they have to pay for the privilege. Buy a CD, rip it and upload the tracks. This time, however, anyone who downloads one of the songs using an Snocap-enable client gets anything from a lo-fi version to a play-once high quality version. It's the content owner who decides what file you get and what you can do with it. Every time a downloader clicks on a 'purchase track' link, it's registered and everyone gets their cut.

To become a success, of course, Snocap needs not only to encourage users to adopt P2P networks that are Snocap aware but also to persuade labels to register their content and P2P software companies to start thinking of themselves as music retailers. All of these efforts depend on offering as broad as possible a range of good, registered/protected content, and that's what this week's move is about.

It's also about growing its own sales, of course - Snocap's system may benefit music owners and labels, but it's not being done out of altruism.

There's still a long way to go. So far the only Snocap-aware P2P app out there is Mashboxx, and it's still in beta testing. Still, Snocap only launched its service last December, though the company has been working on the technology since 2002.

With Snocap now up and running as a broad commercial offering, it will be interesting to see what if any effect it has on the legal challenges to P2P file-sharing. One of several arguments advanced by P2P companies is their inability to check their networks for illegal content distribution. Kazaa's battle in Australia has already been undermined somewhat by the release of internal company documents that show it can monitor shares, but Snocap's system shows that these facilities are available to all. It's not a clincher, but it will make it harder for P2P firms to maintain that what they are powerless to prevent piracy. ®

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Mashboxx opens beta test scheme
Shawn Fanning's Snocap touts vision of P2P heaven
Grokster, Sony BMG to do legit P2P service?

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