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Musicians to Place Songs on File-Sharing Network

Times Staff Writer

The major record labels and movie studios are leery of putting their wares on file-sharing networks, where piracy is rampant. But another group of artists soon may find that one of the most controversial networks offers a particularly effective means of reaching a wide audience.

The musicians who license their works with the help of the Creative Commons advocacy group will soon have their songs spotlighted on a new version of the Morpheus file-sharing network, which has been vilified by the mainstream entertainment industry.

Streamcast Networks Inc., the Woodland Hills company behind Morpheus, has modified its file-sharing software so that users can search specifically for MP3 files bearing a Creative Commons license. The San Francisco-based group backs a more flexible approach to copyrights, and many of the files that bear its licenses are free to download, copy and manipulate. The licenses have been used by up-and-coming independents and tech-savvy established artists.

Streamcast Chief Executive Michael Weiss said his goal was to help artists release and promote their music, videos and other copyrighted works on their own. But the new effort with Creative Commons also buttresses Streamcast’s argument that file-sharing networks deserve legal protection.

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The major record and movie companies have sued Streamcast for copyright infringement because of the illegal downloading that is rampant on Morpheus. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Streamcast was not liable for its users’ piracy, in part because the network had legitimate uses. The new approach increases the potential for legitimate downloading as the Supreme Court considers whether to hear the entertainment industry’s appeal.

Leaders of Creative Commons have been talking to several file-sharing companies about integrating support for its licenses. So far, only Streamcast is ready to sign on.

Creative Commons was founded three years ago by Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig to promote a more permissive approach to copyrights. Federal law grants copyright holders an exclusive right to copy, distribute, manipulate and publicly perform their works; Creative Commons’ free licenses let them give some of those rights to the public.

For example, a Creative Commons license might permit people to download and share a song for free but not to sell or claim credit for it.

Lessig said the group had tried for a long time to get file-sharing companies “to integrate our technology so it becomes easier to see what’s available and what’s not.” That would help people download music without committing piracy, he said.

Several file-sharing networks work with Altnet, a subsidiary of Woodland Hills-based Brilliant Digital Entertainment, to identify some of the files that can be downloaded legally. On most other networks, however, it’s hard to distinguish the files that can be downloaded legally from pirated ones.

The new version of Morpheus, due Nov. 9, will help solve that problem. When users search for downloadable songs with the new software, any track that carries a Creative Commons license will have its permissions prominently displayed. For instance, a search for “Now Get Busy” would highlight a song by the Beastie Boys that permits downloading and sharing.


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