Alternative to Napster thrives

Wednesday, March 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ One Napster alternative that's attracting thousands of downloads a day is taking a wholly different approach to file-swapping _ and looks to be circling the wagons against potential legal threats.

First, Aimster is encrypted, so users can't be spied on, something the recording industry did to Napster to collect evidence of copyright infringment.

Aimster also asks users not to trade in pirated files.

Aimster piggybacks on instant-messaging services including America Online's AIM, allowing users on the same ``buddy list'' to share files. A new version of Aimster posted late last month attracted 200,000 downloads in its first 10 days _ bringing the number of registered users over the 3 million mark, Aimster spokesman Johnny Deep said Tuesday.

The free software has attracted attention amid Napster's legal problems as one of a number of alternatives for online file-swapping.

Files of any type _ not just MP3 music files as in Napster Inc.'s case _ can be swapped on Aimster, although its design allows sharing only among groups of ``buddies'' and not across the entire Web Internet like Napster.

Beyond that, the new version of Aimster includes a terms of service agreement that requires users to agree not to use files that don't belong to them.

Deep said Aimster users should feel free to do what they want with their own files but ``if you're going to do file-swapping, that's an area that we just can't advise you on, because it may be illegal, for all we know.''

While that might seem to negate much of Aimster's attraction, analyst Idil Cakim of Cyber Dialogue says it might be hard to stop users from file-swapping. She said Aimster was ``covering their base.''

Aimster's new version is also encrypted with the intent of preventing the monitoring of file transfers and other communications. . Deep said groups who attempt to monitor the network would be breaking the law.

Deep said the point of encryption is to protect consumers _ a rationale he offers to explain another download offered on the Aimster site: the ``Aimster Pig Encoder.''

The encoder can be used by Napster users. It takes file names in Napster directories and encodes them so that the names cannot be easily monitored. A note on the Aimster Web site claims recent monitoring of file names on the Napster database is a ``serious invasion of your privacy.''

The encoder's name stems from the variation of Pig Latin it uses to scramble words _ although the Web site notes: ``Any resemblance between pigs and the people who are attempting to violate your privacy is purely coincidental.''