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Court to weigh p2p filtering systems

Morpheus_logo U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson offered more details this week about the p2p filtering bake-off he wants court-appointed special master to perform. At issue is the best way for StreamCast Networks to block unauthorized downloading with its Morpheus software while preserving the "core noninfringing uses." While the results will apply only to Morpheus, the work could influence other courts as they consider other suits involving large-scale copyright infringements (say, Viacom's against YouTube).

In an order filed Wednesday (Download  .pdf), Wilson noted that at least three filtering mechanisms were available -- artist/title names, file hashes and acoustic fingerprints -- and that they were not mutually exclusive. He instructed the special master to decide which technology or combination of technologies (not limited to the three categories mentioned above) would be most effective, how they should be implemented, and how the filtering requirement should be enforced.

Notably, Wilson said the cost of the required filtering technology would be a secondary concern, relevant only if "the difference in effectiveness is minimal and the discrepency in cost is substantial." StreamCast had complained that the price of fingerprinting systems was prohibitively high; if so, the remedy chosen by the master may drive the company out of business.

The master will also recommend a way for StreamCast to encourage users to switch from older versions of its software, which are still functional, to the new filtered version. That's no mean feat, given that the new version will deny users much of what drew them to Morpheus in the first place -- free (but illegal) songs and movies.

Wilson gave the parties (StreamCast on one side; the major movie studios, record labels and music publishers on the other) two weeks to pick a mutually acceptable person to serve as special master. If they can't agree, Wilson said, he'll choose one from a list of nominees submitted by each side.


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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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