September 27, 2000 4:35 PM PDT

Major music label teams with Napster-inspired firms

One of the major music labels has taken a first tentative step toward relaxing tensions with the file-swapping world, teaming to promote a new album with a pair of Napster-inspired companies.

Capitol Records, a subsidiary of the EMI Group, is in the midst of promotions with file-trading companies Aimster and Angry Coffee that feature the upcoming Radiohead album. The label hasn't released any of the band's downloadable music to the companies, but it did provide short video files and--in Angry Coffee's case--a full version of the album to be streamed from the sites.

"This was an experiment from both sides to get to the point where we could have a secure file-trading mechanism," said Ted Cohen, vice president of new media for EMI.

The deals appears to be the first time that a major music label has explicitly teamed with any of the controversial online file-swapping services. The "Big Five" labels--EMI Recorded Music, Sony Music Group, Seagram's Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Bertelsmann's BMG Entertainment--have already sued Napster and Scour, charging that they are businesses "built on piracy." They also have been publicly skeptical toward other services that offer the ability to trade or download songs freely online.

"Capitol Records is showing signs of being a very forward thinking organization in its tentative embrace of the opportunity that file-sharing shows to actually sell CDs," said Adam Powell, Angry Coffee's chief executive.

Aimster and Angry Coffee are lower-profile versions of the same type of service first made hugely popular by Napster, though with critical differences.

Aimster taps into America Online's AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ buddy lists to allow trusted groups of individuals to search each others' computers, rather than opening hard drives to anybody online. Cohen said that the company had assured him it was working toward developing a secure version of the service that would not support unauthorized trading.

As previously reported by News.com, under the Aimster promotion, people downloading the company's software could use a Radiohead-themed "skin" or new interface for the program. That also pushed people to a page offering short video and music clips and to a pop-up window containing a link to a page to purchase the CD.

The Aimster promotion closed early this morning. It was intentionally kept quiet in an attempt to test the "viral" marketing capacity of the service. It wasn't listed anywhere on Aimster's main site or on Capitol Records' main Radiohead page.

The Angry Coffee promotion, which came partly at the band Radiohead's request, goes a little farther. The site has provided small video "blips" and email postcards as well as streamed access to the full album for several days.

The Angry Coffee site also provides a way to search the "MyNapster" network of independent servers running Napster's technology. A search on this easily turns up unauthorized versions of the new Radiohead album, which is also available on Napster itself.

Although short-lived and low-profile as promotions go, the Capitol Records' deals appear to be Napster wildfire the first warming in what has been a uniformly cool record industry attitude toward file-swapping services. Cohen said the label remained firmly opposed to companies providing unauthorized access to copyrighted material, but that bringing the file-swapping technologies into the "legitimate" fold was a worthy goal.

Napster itself has repeatedly tried to reach some kind of licensing or promotional deal with the major record labels but has been consistently rebuffed. Scour struck a few promotional deals with studios earlier this year but later was sued by studios anyway.

Napster itself will be facing record industry attorneys in appeals court Oct. 2, marking what could be a last-ditch effort to keep its service from being shut down.

 

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