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Napster Inc.’s fate notwithstanding, the song-swapping technology it popularized is here to stay. Programmers have developed variations that won’t be so easy for the recording industry to stop. Want “The Real Slim Shady”? Launch Napigator. “Jail House Rock”? Just type the name into Gnutella. A Bach cello suite? Just a few clicks away on BearShare. Though more difficult to use than Napster, alternative file-sharing software has staying power because its decentralized technology empowers anyone with a computer to make songs available to millions of users. The profusion of alternatives underscores how difficult it will be for record labels and artists to eradicate music piracy. Some people suggest that it’s current copyright law — not the digital distribution the Internet promotes — that should change. “The fundamental problem is that copyright pretends that information is property,” said Ian Clarke, the developer of the Freenet platform, which can be used to swap all manner of files — music, video, whatever. “The Internet is the most effective communications technology we’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s inevitable that it’s going to make it difficult to enforce copyright. I don’t think that is ever going to change.” In the nearly two years since Napster’s creation, dozens of other programs have emerged to rival the top Internet file-swapping service. Some have taken pages from Napster’s programming book. All have closely watched its court battles. Napster was the first so-called “killer application” to take advantage of a networking structure known as peer-to-peer, which enables computers to both receive and serve files. The idea of peer-to-peer is as old as the Internet itself, but desktop PCs were almost never used to distribute data until the dawn of Napster. Napster changed that. In 10 minutes, a home computer connected to the Internet can make MP3 files — digital copies of songs — available to anyone with a similar setup. Other programs made it possible to trade more than just songs. Napster, however, is not pure peer-to-peer. It relies on a central index server, which acts as a traffic cop, directing requests for songs to other users’ hard drives. The easiest-to-use alternatives rely on software that work like Napster’s servers but can be set up on any home PC with a cable modem or digital subscriber line. These could pop up anywhere in the world — even outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. “I think we could see a renegade version of Napster show up, be it in Antigua or Tijuana,” said Phil Leigh, a digital music analyst at Raymond James and Associates. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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