AOL takes AIM at file sharing

Aimster, like the controversial Napster MP3 music sharing program, enables AIM users to search for and trade files. The popular Napster website is under assault by the recording industry, which claims copyright infringement.

Aimster, which runs as an add-on to AIM, allows limited file sharing, according to Johnny Deep, a spokesperson for the programmer group, which is based in New York. The application restricts searches to Gnutella (the file sharing, peer-to-peer network) and the PCs of other AIM users who have Aimster, he says.

An AOL representative wasn't immediately available for comment about Aimster.

AOL has prevented its instant messaging program from being interoperable with other companies' messaging programs in the past. While AOL has said it is protecting the security of its 61 million users, AOL's rivals have accused it of protecting its market dominance.

In addition, AOL earlier this week shut down the MP3 file search engine on its Nullsoft Winamp music player site that let people search the internet for music. Users trying to search MP3-formatted songs are greeted with the message, "Sorry. Search unavailable at this time. Sad, sad Nullsoft."

"The search came down because we saw that we don't have an efficient way to distinguish between legal and illegal MP3s," says Jay Whitney, an AOL spokesperson. He denies AOL felt pressure from soon-to-be partner Time Warner.

Time Warner has a music unit and is among the companies suing several MP3 file-sharing sites, including Napster.

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