Kazaa Strives For Legitimacy

If the original Napster was the devil in the eyes of the recording industry, Kazaa was the antichrist. Now Kazaa has reemerged as a download service friendly to copyright holders everywhere.

Niklas Zennström, Janus Friis and Priit Kasesalus created the original Kazaa in 2001. As the recording industry began focusing its legal muscle on the popular file-trading service, the founders sold Kazaa to off-shore company Sharman Networks before moving on to their next big project, Internet phone service Skype.

Because it was incorporated on the tiny South Pacific island of Vanuatu, it was thought Kazaa might be protected from the recording industry’s legal wrath. However, Australian courts pursued the company for copyright infringing activities, as did the RIAA. Sharman eventually sold Kazaa to Brilliant Entertainment, whose subsidiary Altnet recently transformed the one-time P2P into a subscription business.

Sound familiar?

Napster followed a similar route. As the first peer-to-peer service dedicated to facilitating music file exchanges, it quickly felt the power behind the recording industry’s litigating sting. Today Napster sells downloads as well as monthly subscriptions. Although songs purchased from the service are not copy-protected, the tunes downloaded on the subscription plan are wrapped in digital rights management technology.

The reborn Kazaa is also offering a subscription service with all-you-can-download songs and ringtones for $19.98 per month. Like Napster’s subscription service, the new Kazaa uses DRM technology, which in this case limits the playing of songs to three computers. As with many music subscription services, the DRM factor means the songs stop playing if the user cancels the subscription.

Unlike Napster’s subscription service, songs downloaded from the new Kazaa cannot be played on portable devices.

So, what’s the point? Being able to transfer songs to portable devices has always been a must-have feature for online music services. Subscription services such as Napster and Rhapsody tether their downloads so they can be transferred to mobile devices. Like the downloaded songs on their computers, the tracks transferred to mobile devices cease to play once the subscription is canceled.

Evidently, the company thinks multiple methods of payment will make the new Kazaa a winner.

“We know that people originally got onto P2P because it was quick and convenient to use,” Altnet CEO Kevin Bermeister told Pollstar. “So it made sense that payment also had to be quick and convenient. Our research showed us that just payment by credit cards was inconvenient to many. But many times that’s all they’re offered.

“We’re also using payment via cell phone and ISP billing. This is the way we plan to get our subscriber numbers, by drawing on people who don’t use any of these applications at the moment.”

Maybe so. But until Kazaa can offer portable device playability, it’s limiting its users to playing songs on only three computers. Hardly the road to success in today’s iPod world.

Rock Band Recruits Indies

Evidently not content with presenting big-name bands and artists in a video game motif, the makers of “Rock Band” recently announced there’s room for everyone on their gaming platform, including that band you saw at the BBQ last Sunday afternoon.

Harmonix Music Systems and MTV Games are preparing to launch Rock Band Network, giving everyone from major labels to that new band that just formed in your neighbor’s garage the opportunity to transform their compositions into Rock Band game files.

Whether anyone outside of an unsigned band’s immediate group of followers will rush to use the files in gameplay remains uncertain. The main attraction for the Rock Band series as well as the competing Guitar Hero franchise is giving music fans opportunities to faux-jam with famous performers. Whether the same gamers will want to spend time re-creating unknown material by obscure bands is anyone’s guess.

But Harmonix and MTV Games is big on the Rock Band Network. Scheduled for a late-August beta launch, the network will provide a toolset and documentation detailing how bands can transform their music files into Rock Band gaming files and submit their finished work for play-testing and peer review.

But all this potential exposure for unknown bands doesn’t come free. Authors will need to join Microsoft’s XNA Creators Club Online in order to test and publish game content. A four-month membership to XNA Creators Club Online costs $49.99 while a year’s membership is priced at $99.99.

“Our goal with Rock Band has always been to go beyond making music games and create a true music platform,” said Harmonix co-founder and CEO Alex Rigopulos. “With the Rock Band Network, we’ve evolved the platform to its next logical step, giving players access to an incredible amount of new music by putting the professional tools we use in the hands of the artists themselves.”

Pirate Bay Acquisition Scuttled?

Remember when Sweden-based Global Gaming Factory X said it was buying Pirate Bay? That acquisition might sink before it even attempts to set sail.

GGF announced last month it was acquiring Pirate Bay’s assets and all related domain names. Furthermore, GGF issued a similar announcement earlier this week stating copyright owners and file-sharers alike would receive payments for participating in the newly launched torrent site.

“For the great majority it will be free of charge, for a minority it will actually make them money, and for a small portion it will cost them,” GGF’s chief exec Hans Pandeya stated in the acquisition announcement.

However, it looks as if there’s some choppy waters ahead before GGF can turn those plans into reality. A lawyer for GGF says the company won’t purchase Pirate Bay unless it can transform the company into a legitimate, copyright-friendly service.

GGF attorney Ricardo Dijkstra told a Swedish court during a civil case brought against GGF and Pirate Bay’s operators by copyright holders consortium Stichting Brein that the company would go through with the acquisition only on the condition the “assets can be used in a legal manner.”

Stichting Brein originally intended to sue only Pirate Bay’s operators but amended the lawsuit to include GGF after the company announced its acquisition plans.

When making the original acquisition announcement, GGF claimed it didn’t know who actually owned Pirate Bay, saying it dealt with “foreign lawyers.” Earlier this year a Swedish court sentenced the four men known for running the site to one year in prison and fined them 30 million kronor ($3.8 million) for facilitating copyright infringing activities. The four men remain free while their conviction makes its way through the appeals system.

Pirate Bay did not actually host content. Instead, it provided little pieces of code called torrents that enable users to download content from other computers. Say you’re looking for a file – U2’s latest album, for example. Downloading the torrent and plugging it into your bittorrent peer-to-peer software client enables your computer to download bits of the album from other users on the network.

Now it looks as if GGF and Pirate Bay are in a cart-before-the-horse predicament, with the company saying it won’t purchase the site unless it can turn it into a legitimate service. Of course, it can’t turn it into legitimate service unless it purchases it, leaving observers wondering if the entire acquisition is dead in the water.

Meanwhile, Dutch magazine Revu quoted one of Pirate Bay’s former administrators, Fredrik Neij, saying he hadn’t received any formal announcement of Stichting Brein’s lawsuit against the torrent site and GGF, and had no plans to attend the court proceedings.

“Would a sane person trust information that he received just like that from the Internet?” Neij told Revu. “Of course we’re not coming.”