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SONY BMG PARTNERS WITH GROKSTER ON FILE-SHARING
New Plan, “Mashboxx” Would Encourage Users to Purchase Songs
In an apparent breakthrough that will stun anyone who has watched as defiant file-sharing companies have thumbed their noses at the record business and angry record labels have worked their lawyers to the bone suing anyone involved with the peer-to-peer swapping of music—even their own customers—newly merged megamajor Sony BMG has partnered with file-sharing player Grokster to develop a file-sharing system, dubbed Mashboxx, that would see users pay for at least some song files.

The initiative, said to be mandated by Sony BMG chief Andrew Lack, is reportedly based on technology from Napster founder Shawn Fanning’s new company, Snocap, which would apparently intercede in users’ searches for songs and other file types and return only authorized results. Some of these may be free promotional versions of the requested song (or movie, or game) that include offers to buy a higher-fidelity version of the tune.

While details remain sketchy as to how the Mashboxx scheme will ultimately work, the fact a major label group and a file-sharing network are working together marks a dramatic first that could possibly be the start of the major-label attempts to harness the undeniable popularity of peer-to-peer swapping. The goal of this first attempt seems to be to allow users to continue to seek out and “sample” music for free, while at least presenting them with the opportunity to buy some songs.

How much songs will cost through Mashboxx, and when the system will make its debut, are unknowns at this point. Mashboxx is being headed by former Grokster President Wayne Ross, who was part of the $10.5 million Puretunes settlement with the labels earlier this week (see Rumor Mill) 

“There's a lot of serious effort on the label side of the table to try to make this work, more than you would have ever expected to see,” one music executive with a gift for understatement told the Los Angeles Times. As the labels and file sharing networks continue to fight it out in court, the number of RIAA suits against consumers has grown to over 6,000.

While at least one other file sharing network has agreed to try out the Mashboxx system, others are skeptical. The head of Morpheus developer Streamcast told the Times that while the new cooperation between music and technology was admirable, he would take a wait-and-see approach to determine what actually works before committing.

One potential problem with Mashboxx is that users may tend to defect from file-sharing networks that filter or reduce their search results and ability to download. These users are likely to seek out other, unrestricted networks, of which there will still be many.
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