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Illegal file sharing showing no letup
San Jose Mercury News
SAN JOSE, Calif. — A year after the Supreme Court's landmark Grokster decision — which set out to curb online theft of music and movies — illegal file sharing is as popular as ever even as Silicon Valley technologists and Hollywood moguls continue their awkward embrace.
The court's unanimous decision that Internet file-sharing services can be sued if they encourage people to use their sophisticated software to steal copyrighted material was hailed as a victory by the entertainment world.
But the ruling hasn't stopped the lawsuits and acrimony between the two sides. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) continues to sue tech companies. And in the past year, it filed some 6,000 suits against individuals it says are stealing material.
But changes are occurring, if for no other reason than the entertainment world needs the new distribution channels Silicon Valley can provide.
"There are some people inside of record labels who admit that they are not doing the right thing in certain cases. There is some resistance" to the digital era, said Ali Aydar, the first employee of Napster, the pioneering peer-to-peer music-sharing network that eventually went bankrupt after battling the record industry.
"But if you are able to show them how you can make them money, increase their exposure and respect their copyrights, then it's really a no-brainer," he added.
Steve Jobs helped lead the way in showing a successful model of selling digital music through Apple Computer's popular iTunes online store, then sealing deals with entertainment companies to offer up TV shows. Hollywood has started to offer video through its own online sites.
The industry even found a common cause with file-sharing technology.
In the spring, Warner Bros. agreed to offer video through BitTorrent, the San Francisco-based peer-to-peer technology company whose software code has been used by pirates to illegally trade movies and music.
These early deals with Internet companies do not mean the entertainment industry has abandoned using its courtroom muscle as a weapon.
Other file-sharing services have shut down since the Supreme Court's MGM v. Grokster ruling.
And the recording industry recently filed a lawsuit against XM Satellite Radio over its new device that allows people to store music.
Technologists don't see dragging file-sharing companies into court as the answer.
"Shutting down peer-to-peer networks was like taking a half-course of antibiotics every six months," said Tom McInerney, co-founder of Guba.com, a video site that just announced an agreement with Warner Bros. to distribute TV shows and movies.
"It just led to the evolution of more decentralized networks that are more efficient and more difficult to shut down," he said.
Meanwhile, file sharing, most of which is illegal, continues to grow. Nearly 10 million users worldwide simultaneously clicked into peer-to-peer technology in May — 12 percent more than in May 2005, according to BigChampagne, a Los Angeles research firm that monitors file sharing.
"The social-networking aspect of the Internet is continuing to blossom, and no landmark court decision or watershed event changes that," BigChampagne Chief Executive Eric Garland said.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company