Some people may well be intimidated by the 261 lawsuits that the music industry has filed against Internet users it says are illegally sharing songs. \nBut hundreds of software developers are racing to create new systems, or modify existing ones, to let people continue to swap music -- hidden from the prying eyes of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), or from any other investigators. \n"With the RIAA trying to scare users around the world, the developer community is pumping up to create networks which are safer and more anonymous," said Pablo Soto, a developer in Madrid who designed the software for two file-sharing systems, Blubster and Piolet. \nSome experts wonder if the industry's efforts will create more trouble for it than ever. "The RIAA is breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria," said Clay Shirky, a software developer who teaches new media at New York University. \nBlubster, which has an estimated quarter-million users, already uses technology to make eavesdropping more difficult, Soto said. Its next version will encrypt files so they can be decoded only by their intended user. \nOther systems are sending files on more circuitous Internet routes instead of, or in addition to, using encryption. And some developers hope to replace the current systems, which connect millions of users, with private file-sharing networks -- speakeasies that may be too small for the industry to find. \nThe developers of the new systems say there is nothing illegal about writing software that helps people keep secrets. US courts have held that file-sharing software may not be banned if it has both legitimate and illegal uses. \nThe Recording Industry Association of America has said that it is unconcerned about the increasing anonymity of file sharing. The stated purpose of its lawsuits is not to catch every hard core music pirate, but to show millions of casual file sharers that what they are doing is illegal. \nIn addition, none of the new methods offers perfect anonymity, experts say. Yet many of the new systems are likely to make the recording industry work harder to find file traders. \nPrivate file sharing stems from academic work on encryption and data security over the last decade. One system is Freenet, introduced in 1999 by Ian Clarke. It allows people to publish files to be used by others, with technology meant to keep the source anonymous. \n"Everyone said the Internet was an anarchistic thing through which anyone could say anything," Clarke said. "But in reality it is incredibly easy to monitor what is going on on the Internet. I was interested in creating a system that would preserve anonymity." \nFreenet is similar to other file-sharing services in that users make part of their hard drives available to hold content to be downloaded by other users. But all the files are encrypted so no one knows what files are on a given machine. Requests to download a file are also encrypted. \nFreenet has been a way to disseminate banned political tracts and has been used by people who want to share illegal content like child pornography. Clarke says he is willing to help people send files illegally if he can also prevent political censorship. "I am an absolutist on free speech," he said. \nFreenet, however, is slow and hard to use, and it requires knowing a specific file name. As a result, it has not been a viable alternative to music-sharing services like KaZaA. Developers in Germany are creating a program called Frost meant to make Freenet easier to use. \nAnother file-sharing model is for business users who want to collaborate while protecting secrets from competitors. "The needs of businesses and the needs of file traders are the same," Shirky said. "I want a secure way to send you a three megabyte PowerPoint file with no way for anyone else to see it. That is not different from an MP3 file." \nSoftware by companies like Groove Networks creates private file networks for specified users. Groove, which can cost $69 or more per user, is not widely employed by music sharers. But a program called Waste is attracting the interest of music traders who want to create "darknets," as private file-sharing communities are known. \nWaste was written by Justin Frankel, who works for the Nullsoft unit of America Online. It was posted on Nullsoft's site one day last May and removed the next , although not fast enough to keep copies from circulating on the Web. (AOL's corporate cousin, Warner Music, is a backer of the RIAA's campaign against file sharing.) Frankel and AOL did not return calls seeking comment. \nInvestigators for the music industry acknowledge that some of these technologies may make their jobs more difficult, but they suggest that users may not want to take advantage of them. \n"The thing about darknets is that the users show more culpability than people who simply use peer-to-peer," said Randy Saaf, referring to peer-to-peer sharing systems like KaZaA. Saaf is chief executive of MediaDefender Inc, a music technology company that does work for the record industry. "When people are found to be using them, they will face stiffer penalties." \nMeanwhile, older file-sharing services do not want to lose users to darknets or other newcomers. Many of them are trying to add features they say will protect privacy. Streamcast networks, the creator of Morpheus, introduced a feature this summer that lets users relay files by way of intermediary computers known as proxy servers -- a technique that can help obscure the path between the source of the file and the person who downloads it. \nProxy servers and similar methods can be an effective way to hide, said Stuart Schechter, a Harvard security researcher. But, he said, there is nothing to stop the recording industry from creating proxy servers as so-called honey pots to serve as decoys and gather information on users. "The problem with any of these systems is how do you decide who to trust," he said.
PHOTO: NY TIMES
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