P-to-P partner accuses firms of patent violations

Altnet, a partner of Kazaa peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software vendor Sharman Networks, sent cease and desist letters to nine companies Tuesday, accusing them of improperly using Altnet's patented file-identifying technology to do such things as identify P-to-P copyright violators for the recording industry.

Altnet's TrueNames file-identifying technology makes it easy for file sharers to identify the files they want, but some market research and antipiracy companies have been using TrueNames to flood P-to-P networks with fake files or to track file downloads, said Derek Broes, Altnet's executive vice president of worldwide operations.

Some P-to-P software vendors have also been using TrueNames without Altnet's permission, but Altnet is negotiating TrueNames licensing with those vendors, he added. P-to-P vendors would save money licensing Altnet's patented technology, instead of creating new ways to identify files, Broes said. "It would be more efficient for them to work with us and license the technology," he said.

Asked if he was trying to protect Kazaa users from lawsuits from the recording industry, Broes denied that was his motivation. "Altnet's goal has always been to provide legitimate trading of files on peer-to-peer networks," he said. "That's the goal -- the commercialization of peer-to-peer."

TrueNames is "the most efficient" way to identify files through identifying marks called hash marks in files, Broes said, but P-to-P vendors and other companies could use other methods. The companies receiving cease and desist letters should stop using TrueNames immediately, Broes said, or face legal action. "It's a patent we have to protect," Broes added.

Altnet sent cease and desist letters to nine companies on Tuesday, including BigChampagne, MediaDefender and Overpeer. Representatives of MediaDefender and Overpeer, both antipiracy firms, did not respond to requests for comments, but BigChampagne Chief Executive Officer Eric Garland denied that his company was using TrueNames.

BigChampagne is a market research company that provides the recording industry with statistics on file swapping so that music companies can see what's popular, Garland said. His company has not been hired by anyone to identify P-to-P users so that the recording industry can sue them, he said.

"Each and every claim (by Altnet) is absolutely false with respect to BigChampagne," Garland added. "I think this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what our company does."

Altnet's TrueNames technology is a method of identifying data based on the file's content, rather than by the file name, origin, location, address or other information that can be easily changed, according to the company, a subsidiary of Brilliant Digital Entertainment. The technology allows the identification of unique files on a P-to-P network by assigning a unique identifier, or hash, to data using an algorithm in a process protected by two U.S. patents. This technique lets users of the technology track, retrieve, monitor and charge for the distribution of content, according to the company.

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