Once the focus of recording industry copyright litigation, peer-to-peer network provider iMesh reported that it has completed its transition into a legal, fee-based music download service.
The company, which is based in Israel, announced a public beta version of its iMesh 6.0 software on Tuesday, promising that the application offers many of the benefits of traditional P2P networks, such as fast downloads and the ability to trade files with other users. All the while offering copyright protection to recording companies and performing artists.
The new iMesh service is also free of advertising, spyware and adware, and claims access to over 15 million songs through its offering and across the Gnutella file-sharing network.
In July 2004, iMesh said that it would move to a legally-approved file download model as part of a $4.1 million settlement it reached with the Recording Industry Association of America in a copyright infringement suit.
As in its cases against a number of file-sharing networks, on which people once freely traded music files at no cost and with no observation of copyrights, the RIAA had contended that iMesh was providing a platform that people were using to break the law.
Despite the ruling, the RIAA had given permission to iMesh to continue to operate its P2P service while it worked on its legal music offering.
Using the new music service, iMesh users can download, burn and share music files within a tightly-controlled P2P community.
The company will offer both a subscription service for $6.95 per month for unlimited downloads, and the ability to buy songs individually for a currently undisclosed sum.
A basic version of the service and the iMesh media player software will be offered for free, and will also offer access to non-copyrighted materials such as music from independent artists.
The company is offering free 60 day trials for all of the services.
Other features of the service include a library site for tracking downloads and sharing music play lists with other people, a search tool for looking for individual tracks, and Discover, an area of the iMesh site that points to heavily downloaded tunes, information on artists and suggested play lists.
The Goal Is to
Create a Social Network That Shares Music”>
The Discover service is also aimed at helping customers find other iMesh users who may share similar musical tastes or live in the same geographical region.
The company repeatedly stated its hope that users will create an elaborate social networking community for sharing music, preferences and information in order to keep people coming back for more downloads.
Bob Summer, the executive chairman of iMesh, who formally headed the RIAA, said that by offering the benefits of P2P, along with freedom from possible prosecution for file-sharing, iMesh should be able to retain users and convince them to begin paying for music.
“The P2P experience realizes its greatest value in creating a community, and were free as a licensed site to create that interaction and experience, and users dont need to be concerned about playing games of dodgeball (with law enforcement),” said Summer.
“Were creating an entirely clean, legal way for people to use file sharing, without the plague of spyware and adware, that goes far beyond the P2P experience available anywhere else today.”
In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that file sharing networks could be held liable when their users illegally copy music, movies and other protected materials without the permission of copyright holders.
The precedent was handed down as part of the Courts judgment in the legal battle between entertainment giant MGM and P2P network operator Grokster.
Even as iMesh works to clean up its act, federal lawmakers continue their crackdown on P2P services.
In September, several U.S. senators asked the Justice Department and the U.S. Copyright Office to establish recommendations for launching government action on companies accused of misusing file sharing technologies.
The continued pressure on P2P networks has forced at least one operator, eDonkey, to say recently that it would shut down its public file-sharing operations.
However, like iMesh, the operators of eDonkey have said that they hope to re-launch some of their services in a “closed” P2P environment once it reaches its own settlement with the RIAA.
Summer said that it was no easy feat for iMesh to transition into its new model, and predicted that it will take similarly long periods of time for other P2P networks such as eDonkey to go legal and transform their software.
On the topic of illegal file-sharing, he said that there will likely be other networks that appear to fill the void of sites that are shut down by the government or go legal, but indicated his belief that the RIAA is prepared to pursue such efforts.
As in most businesses based on unique content, he said, piracy in some form or another will likely trouble the recording industry forever.
“Will new P2P sites appear to fill the void? Quite possibly, but I believe the RIAA is planning for that, and the industry is better prepared than ever before to protect itself,” said Summer.
“There will always be a vigorous form of piracy out there for us to chase. There will be different forms in different parts of the world, and if people want to commit themselves to piracy, theyll be able to do it.
“We can chase it, but there will always be something out there because there is so much demand for the product.”