Altnet opens Kazaa's doors to paid content

If a new peer-to-peer (P-to-P) upstart has its way, users of the popular Kazaa file-sharing network will soon see secure, copyright-protected content popping up at the top of their query results, giving content owners and providers an unprecedented foot in the door of the Wild West world of file swapping.

With the introduction Monday of Altnet Inc.'s TopSearch service, the company said that it wants to put content owners back in control of how their works are distributed on the Net by giving them a direct relationship with end users.

TopSearch is a search function engine that allows content providers to pay to have their content listed at the top of Kazaa's query results, using targeted keywords. The Los Angeles company, a subsidiary of Brilliant Digital Media Inc., is rolling out TopSearch with limited content providers, with plans to aggressively expand its offerings.

The feather in Altnet's cap, however, is that it has struck a deal with Sharman Networks Ltd.'s Kazaa, one of the most popular file sharing networks on the Net, boasting legions of users who perform some 120 million search queries a day.

And that's not all the company has up its sleeve. Altnet is also planning to roll out an opt-in, P-to-P resource sharing network, which offers users goods and services in return for letting content providers use their computing resources.

The Altnet Resource Network will be separate from Kazaa and is due to swing into action in the third quarter of this year. It will offer content providers a way to process and deliver content protected via Microsoft Corp.'s DRM (digital rights management), allowing them to set prices and terms of use for accessing their works.

The company said that a small group of Altnet Resource Network users will be invited to download and install Altnet's Digital Dashboard application, which allows them to become a resource sharing partner. In exchange for offering access to their computing resources, these users will receive points that can be exchanged for goods and services.

Resource-sharing partners will select when and how their computers can be used, but they will not have access to the content unless they buy a license. Altnet also said that it will employ a stringent privacy policy that protects the identities of these resource partners.

Kevin Bermeister, the company's president and chief executive officer, said that the Altnet network is an attempt to bridge the gap between the content providers and the technology industry.

"In essence, the Web is not an efficient place for content providers," said Bermeister, citing the mounting bandwidth and storage costs most major providers face.

In addition to cutting technology costs, Bermeister said the network will allow content providers to cut out the middlemen.

"Altnet enables providers to license to the end-user directly, rather than via a Web site," he said.

But while P-to-P may afford content creators new commercial opportunities, it has also caused them a lot of headaches. Major content providers such as the music and film industries have been waging an all-out battle against the free sharing of their copyright-protected content.

While it may take some time for these groups to warm to the idea of their content being distributed by the historically free-wheeling Kazaa network, the real question is whether P-to-P users will welcome paid content mixed in with the free content they have come to expect.

Bermeister is confident, however, that Kazaa users will appreciate being able to access content that would not be made available to them if content providers were not compensated. Still, he recognizes that the Internet marketplace is unlike any other.

"I don't believe you'll ever get away from free data exchange. It's at the root of the Internet," Bermeister said.

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Scarlet Pruitt

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