The record industry is hoping that a little magic will solve its problems with online piracy by file sharers.
The Recording Industry Association of America has been talking up a company named Audible Magic to lawmakers and regulators in Washington in recent weeks in an attempt to show that file-sharing networks can be tamed.
The company, based in Los Gatos, California, has developed a technology that it says can spot copyrighted materials while they are being passed from computer to computer and block the transfer.
Audible Magic executives say that their software can be used in devices that attach to computer networks, or it can be written into the file-sharing software from companies like Kazaa and Grokster.
"We think the technology is extraordinarily promising," said Mitch Bainwol, the chairman of the music industry group. "We said from the start that technology may pose some risks, but it offers the solution."
File-sharing companies have argued that they cannot control copyright infringement on their networks.
"I think it does change the game," said Josh Bernoff, a principal analyst with Forrester Research. "Now if you're a legislator, you're going to have to make a decision about whether you're going to protect the rights of downloaders, or of the people who own the copyrights to the music."
Record industry executives, who have said that they are against government-ordered technology fixes for copyright problems, said that they are not asking Congress to act, at least at this time. Instead, Bainwol said, his industry would like to see the "peer-to-peer" companies add the software to their wares.
"It really puts the P2P community to the test," he said. "Are they serious about becoming legitimate, or are they not serious?"
The chief executive of a company with a product that could be put to similar uses said that the file-trading companies were unlikely to sign up.
"It destroys their model," said Mark Ishikawa, the chief executive of BayTSP, a company that monitors file-trading activity for entertainment companies. He never developed a file blocker, he said, because "for us, it's a waste of time."
Vance Ikezoye, the chief executive of Audible Magic, said that businesses could emerge from the use of his technology, which he said could be used to help sell legitimate music, not just block the illegitimate kind. The file-sharing companies and those that work with them are unsurprisingly unenthusiastic about the music industry's flirtation with Audible Magic.
Marty Lafferty, the chief executive of the Distributed Computing Industry Association, a trade group for the companies, said the software "falls considerably short" of what is necessary to work with such fast-changing technology.
"P2P is an evolving technology that can only be understood by working more closely with the developers of these applications," Lafferty said.