WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thousands of Internet usersturned to the little-known Gnutella network over the weekend todownload free music and movies, throwing up another possibleroadblock for media companies fighting unauthorized downloads ofcopyrighted material.
Makers of the popular Morpheus file-sharing software released anupdate Friday that switched from the Fast Track file-swappingnetwork to Gnutella after a dispute over licensing fees with KazaaBV, the Dutch company that owns the Fast Track network.
As a result, the Gnutella network nearly tripled in size overthe weekend with an average of 353,000 users logged on at any time,said Redshift Research, a research firm based in Belmont,Massachusetts.
Traffic on the Fast Track network dipped slightly over theweekend as well, said Redshift analyst Matt Bailey.
The move fragments the formidable Fast Track user base, but alsoplaces another hurdle in front of a music industry seeking to stampout unauthorized file-sharing services, Bailey said.
Recording companies managed to shut down the wildly popularNapster service last July, and have since filed suit againstMorpheus along with Kazaa and Grokster, two other high-profile FastTrack clients.
The music industry says the three companies should prevent usersfrom trading copyrighted material, a request the companies say isimpossible because they cannot control what is traded.
A lawyer for the Recording Industry of America, a trade grouprepresenting the five major labels, said the move belied Morpheus'claims that they could not control their network.
"Their prior claim that they could not be shut down proved to beuntrue. We are examining the current situation," said MattOppenheim, senior vice president for business and legal affairs atthe RIAA.
But even if the industry wins its case, it will face ongoingheadaches as users migrate to new services, Bailey said.
"This is just another sign that the actual peer-to-peerfile-sharing industry is so fluid ... that it's going to be hard toreally stop," Bailey said.
GNUTELLA COMES OF AGE?
The move marks a coming of age of sorts for Gnutella, which hasin the past been overshadowed by more efficient networks like FastTrack and Napster.
While Napster boasted 1.57 million simultaneous users at itspeak last February, only 19,000 people on average were usingGnutella at any time last December, Redshift said.
Since then, usage has gradually grown to 91,000 simultaneoususers as new services like Limewire have boosted sluggish downloadtimes, Bailey said.
The head of Morpheus' parent company said legal concerns werenot behind the switch.
"It was a business decision we made in an adverse time, but ithad nothing to do with the lawsuit," said Steve Griffin, chairmanand CEO of StreamCast Networks Inc.
StreamCast engineers were working on a way to incorporate bothGnutella and Fast Track in their software until a dispute overlicensing fees with Kazaa BV forced Morpheus to go offline lastweek, Griffin said.
StreamCast has withheld $60,000 in licensing fees to Fast Trackowner Kazaa BV since last October because Fast Track did notprovide documentation with new versions of the network, Griffinsaid.
As a result, Kazaa did not provide StreamCast with a new versionin February, creating technical conflicts with other networkusers.
Griffin said he felt confident he would hold onto his user basewhen the company introduced an improved version of Morpheus in afew weeks.
But there were signs that at least one other file-swappingcompany tried to lure the Morpheus users who previously made up 60percent of the Fast Track network.
"Morpheus users come on over to our place ... you'll feel rightat home," said the Web site of the Kazaa Media Desktop, a FastTrack service that is no longer associated with Kazaa BV.