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StreamCast auditions fingerprinting companies

Morpheus_logo What better way to welcome the new year than to write about the latest development in my favorite long-running copyright infringement lawsuit, MGM v Grokster? Complying with U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Wilson's order from October, StreamCast Networks, the company behind the Morpheus file-sharing software program, is inviting an array of content-recognition companies to submit proposals for filtering out unauthorized works. The task is complicated by Wilson's desire, as reflected in the permanent injunction issued last year, not to interfere with non-infringing uses of the technology.

The winning bidder will have to satisfy Wilson, who has appointed a special master to help him evaluate the various filtering technologies: Andy Johnson-Laird, a British forensic software analyst. Johnson-Laird has been active in numerous copyright infringement, patent infringement and trade-secret lawsuits involving high-tech companies, although this appears to be his first case involving the entertainment industry and file-sharing technology.

The carrot dangled by StreamCast is the possibility that the solution backed by Wilson could become a de facto standard for the industry. The court's seal of approval may help the winning vendor sell its technology to other companies in the copyright holders' cross-hairs, such as user-generated content sites and file-sharing software distributors. But the company also put a few caveats in its request for proposals:

The solution should be capable of efficiently, effectively and economically filtering out or blocking works (content such as sound recordings, and movies and tv shows) from being able to be downloaded by users of Morpheus, where the copyright holders have either objected to or not authorized the free sharing of the content, while not creating bottlenecks or slow returns of results and downloading during peak usage times, and should allow works to quickly download where the copyright holders have not objected to or have authorized the free sharing of the content (including, ideally, by the use of a Creative Commons type license), or again ideally where the works may be non-infringing such as where the works may make “fair use” of copyrighted content.

Nevertheless, StreamCast added that companies making no allowances for fair use or Creative Commons licensing should still submit proposals. That's because the technology backed by the plaintiffs in the case -- from Audible Magic -- may not support those features, either.

Companies eager to join the bake-off can contact StreamCast by e-mailing filter1@morpheus.com. They'd better hurry, though -- their entries must be submitted by Jan. 17. After a legal odyssey that's lasted more than six years, the wheels of justice now appear to be turning swiftly.

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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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