Napster Clone’s Curious Terms

File-trading network Aimster is using an unusual shield to protect its users from snooping: copyright law sponsored by the recording industry. The new TOS agreement requires users to store files to designated folders on their hard drives, which are then made available to other users on the Aimster network to download. However, by terms of the contract, users agree not to actually open the files they download.

File-trading network Aimster is using an unusual shield to protect its users from snooping: copyright law sponsored by the recording industry.

On Friday, the company released a new “terms of service” contract that reshapes the service as an “information warehouse” for individuals to store files that can be accessed from its private encrypted network.

The new TOS agreement requires users to store files to designated folders on their hard drives, which are then made available to other users on the Aimster network to download. However, by terms of the contract, users agree not to actually open the files they download.

The new guidelines also state that anyone who decides to view or use the files for any other purpose will be immediately banned from the system, and could face civil or criminal penalties for violating the terms of service.

But, Aimster has not put any security measures in place to prevent users from opening files that they download. Users are only supposed to review their own files to make sure that they are authentic and stored correctly.

The Aimster service creates a “virtual private network” that allows people using the America Online Instant Message application to create a “mini-Napster” with friends on a buddy list. Unlike Napster, which makes files available to anyone who is logged on the network, Aimster only makes files available to those people you already know.

Napster lawyer David Boies, who is embroiled in his own copyright fight, has helped Aimster make its service compliant with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), said Rob Batchelder, research director at Gartner.

“They have one of the most clever pieces of technology out there,” Batchelder said. “They are adapting very quickly to the mistakes that others have made in the peer-to-peer space.”

Aimster encrypts everything that is moved around its network, including all files and directories. It is impossible for anyone outside the system to monitor the network without circumventing the security. Breaking the encryption is illegal under the DMCA because the network and its programming code are copyrighted.

This leaves copyright owners such as the music and movie industries unable to access the network to monitor the traffic without first breaking the very law they helped get pushed through Congress in 1998.

The motion picture industry used the DMCA to successfully sue hacker website 2600 Magazine for linking to a page that listed the DeCSS program code that allows users to break the encryption on DVDs.

Unlike the DeCSS case, which dealt with the dissemination of information that could break DVD encryption code, Aimster hopes to use the Fair Use Doctrine and the DMCA as a shield.

“This is untested territory because in the DeCSS case, the main legal issue revolves around the dissemination of the anti-circumvention codes,” said Whitney Broussard, an entertainment copyright lawyer with New York’s Selverne, Mandlebaum & Mintz, LLP. “With Aimster, this is just like sitting in your living rooms. You can’t just have law enforcement officials running into your house, searching for illegal activity.”

“They would have to change the law to shut us down, because we comply with the law right now,” said Aimster spokesman Johnny Deep. “The copyright owners can go to Congress and ask them to change the law, but right now, they can’t shut us down. And I doubt that Congress is going to roll back the safe harbor provisions in the DMCA to shut this down.”

“The product we are offering is the encrypted virtual private network that has incredible non-infringing uses,” Deep said. For example, people who want to share files among multiple computers can store them on Aimster, or friends can collaborate on documents together.

“We can’t offer that service if we are forced to monitor the system. Besides, the index for the files reside on the hard drives on the clients who registered to be Aimster servers.”

Officials at America Online declined to comment.

Author: Brad King

News Service: Wired News

URL: http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,42105,00.html