Grouper sets limits on tunes but not pix

Members can listen to other users' songs via streaming

A new peer-to-peer company is launching that may pass muster with the RIAA but is raising the MPAA’s fury.

Dubbed Grouper, the technology allows users to share video, photos and music within private groups of up to 30 people.

Songs are protected from piracy as Grouper lets members of a private network listen to other users’ songs via streaming but not permanently download them.

Due to what company’s founders call technological restrictions, though, there are no protections for films.

“This is a step in the right direction in the sense that you’re sharing with a small, trusted group instead of 500,000 people,” noted Motion Picture Assn. of America director of worldwide Internet enforcement Chad Tilbury. “However, we want to get across that it doesn’t matter if you’re sharing with two people or 500,000, it’s still illegal.”

Grouper execs argued, though, that their service would be a less helpful way to find pirated movies online than with existing P2P networks that don’t limit how broadly files can be shared.

The founders of Grouper, which launches today, designed the service with the hopes of allowing users to more efficiently share personal photos and videos over the Web. The music feature was created to let users engage in the Internet equivalent of private performances protected by law.

“We’re using technology to replicate in a better way what already exists in the real world, not to design a better way to get a specific movie or song online,” explained CEO Josh Felser.

A Recording Industry Assn. of America rep declined to comment on whether the music trade org approves of the new technology.

Although private P2P networks already exist on the Internet, Grouper is the first commercial company that has launched to popularize and profit from the technology.

Felser and co-founder David Samuel were behind dot-com era music-streaming company Spinner, which was acquired by America Online in 1999 for $320 million.

The RIAA and MPAA lost a suit against peer-to-peer companies Grokster, Morpheus and Kazaa in federal appeals court in August. Orgs are backing controversial federal legislation that would outlaw P2P networks that illegally transmit copyrighted content.

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