File sharing co. offers new tech, relaunching MusicCity.com

Facing a fusillade of legal attacks from an irate entertainment industry, free file-sharing Netco Streamcast Networks — like Napster before it — is seeking legitimacy by reaching out to independent artists with technology to help them distribute their music themselves.

Streamcast says its new digital rights management software, dubbed Content Into Application, or CIntoA, will let artists choose the level of access that users will have to songs that they upload into the company’s Morpheus file-sharing network.

The tracks can be programmed to offer a limited number of plays before a fee is required, or only a snippet to give users a free taste of the music. Any profits generated by the sale of music on the network will be split 70/30 between the artist and the Netco, Streamcast said.

Streamcast is also relaunching its MusicCity.com Web site, offering a search tool to root through the new content and shop for concert tickets, musical equipment and artist merchandise.

Baby distrib deal

Company has also inked a distribution deal with CDBaby.com, a site that distributes the CDs of more than 17,000 independent artists. Under the terms of the pact, CDBaby talent will be able to distribute their wares over the Morpheus network using CIntoA.

In addition to independent acts,’80s pop act/tech entrepreneur Thomas Dolby will contribute music to the network using the new technology, as will rock band Grant Lee Phillips, country act Yankee Grey and jazz-fusion group Chroma, among others.

“Artists get the chance to be compensated on their own terms because they have total control,” said Streamcast topper Steve Griffin. “They make the rules over when and how the content may be downloaded; they even set the price.”

If this all sounds very familiar, it should: Battered file-sharing progenitor Napster began championing its own initiative to promote and distribute independent artists a year ago, even as it was losing ground in its court battle against the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

Company eventually succumbed to the industry’s legal efforts when a district court injunction effectively shut down the peer-to-peer network last July. Napster has been working on a legal, subscription-based alternative service ever since but has had a hard time securing licenses from the majors.

Streamcast may be in an even tougher spot. In October, the company — along with popular rivals Kazaa and Grokster — was sued by both the RIAA and the Motion Picture Assn. of America. (The latter chimed in because the three services also let users trade video files.)

Tech woes

Adding to its troubles, Streamcast has suffered a rash of technological problems in recent weeks. Morpheus users were booted off the FastTrack network, the technological backbone that it shared with both Kazaa and Grokster, over an apparent licensing dispute with FastTrack’s Dutch parent company. Morpheus has since switched to a hastily created alternative based on the far less reliable Gnutella architecture and insists that a more robust version will be available soon.

In the meantime, however, users have complained that the service is a shadow of its former self, and scores are jumping ship to rival peer-to-peer offerings. And the ever-enterprising Kazaa has even posted a software patch on its site that helps Morpheus users switch over to its system.

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