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Bertelsmann testing secret Napster clone

Industry Standard
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(IDG) -- Bertelsmann is secretly developing software that could be used as a backup if file-sharing partner Napster is ordered to shut down. The program, dubbed Snoopstar, is an easy-to-use interface that allows users to search for music, videos and other files downloaded from various file-sharing services that include Napster, Gnutella and iMesh.

Snoopstar, whose logo features a grinning dog's face similar to Napster's cat, was quietly made available for beta testing in early February. That beta test is now over, according to the Snoopstar Web site, which invites visitors to "check our Web site frequently for news."

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"Bertelsmann is clearly looking for alternatives should Napster really have to close," said Paul Myers, founder of Wippit, a U.K.-based file-sharing service, "but I don't see any advantages Snoopstar would have for them."

Napster CEO Hank Barry told German trade newspaper Net-Business that he wasn't aware of Snoopstar, but that he understood Bertelsmann's interest in such a service. "There is a great chance that Napster will just be shut down," Barry said, according to the paper. A Napster spokeswoman said Monday that Barry wouldn't comment on Snoopstar. BeCG spokesman Alexander Adler said Snoopstar would not affect BeCG's support for Napster.

The Snoopstar.com domain was registered by Matthias Runte, an executive of BeCG, Bertelsmann's e-commerce subsidiary that signed a deal with Napster last year. Interestingly, Runte also registered the Snoopster.com domain. According to Net-Business, BeCG owns 75 percent of Snoopstar.com, whose chief executive, Andreas Schmidt, is also CEO of BeCG.

Adler confirmed that Snoopstar is a Bertelsmann company, but called it "just a test project." He said the beta version of Snoopstar's technology was downloaded 1,000 times, but said "there are no further plans with Snoopstar." The company, however, posted want ads for software developers on German recruitment sites just three weeks ago.

Contrary to the principle of the peer-to-peer on which it capitalizes, Snoopstar's unified interface can be used only for searching on various services, not for offering one's own files for downloading. Beta testers of Snoopstar report that it included advertisements and links to Bertelsmann's retail music site CDNow, as well as to Barnesandnoble.com and BOL, if any given search for music turned up empty.

Myers called the idea that Bertelsmann would support a service such as Snoopstar "crazy." But it's not so crazy if Bertelsmann is merely looking to cover itself in the event that Napster closes. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals already has ordered the wildly popular file-sharing service to prevent the swapping of pirated songs unless it could settle its suit with the five major record labels, a proposition that effectively spells the end of Napster as users now know it.




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