CenterSpan Hopes to Make Good With Scour

CenterSpan Communications Corp., the Intel Capital portfolio firm that picked up after it filed for bankruptcy last year October, enlisted the help of some digital music and film outfits Tuesday to beta test the pending subscription service.

Financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed, but EMusic, Moonshine Music, Crush Media and Management, FILMSPEED and have given CenterSpan the green light to allow file sharing during the beta test of the new Scour Exchange.

Music and movie lovers will be able to download and share over 100,000 music and video files during the testing period, slated to begin at the end of March.

Initially injected into the Scour Exchange network through CenterSpan peers, the files will spread throughout the peer network. As more downloads are requested, Scour Exchange will automatically route the download request to the most efficient peer on the network to provide the customer with the fastest download possible.

Artists in the CenterSpan library are eclectic and include anything from modern performers such as Green Day, Arrested Development, Primitive Radio Gods, to older artists like Credence Clearwater Revival and Bob Marley. The video library includes full-length films, film shorts, trailers and classic television clips.

The whole point of the beta program, CenterSpan hopes, is to preview the Scour Web site for the some 220,000 previous Scour users who have agreed to test it — and they will no doubt air their feedback whether it be on bulletin boards or chat rooms.

CenterSpan hopes this feedback will help them prepare for the addition of a paid service to be launched in the third quarter of this year.

“The labels and studios want a legal and commercial platform that meets their needs, as well as those of consumers, and that’s exactly what we are bringing to market,” said Howard Weitzman, president of CenterSpan’s Digital Media and Entertainment Group.

“The creation of a legalized digital distribution channel that utilizes peer-to-peer delivery controls costs, insures reliability, enables user community and creates a win-win situation for both the supplier and the consumer.”

Weitzman’s comments include the word “legalized” — a word ubiquitous among talks of file-sharing and P2P. They also bring the question of how Scour came to be owned by CenterSpace to center stage; Scour was sued for copyright infringement last October and ultimately gave up its assets, which CenterSpan picked up in December for $9 million in cash.

Scour was founded in 1997 by five UCLA computer science students and was the beneficiary of such high-profile investors as former Disney executive Michael Ovitz. The company ran into trouble when the recording and motion picture industries laid into it with copyright suits.

In doing battle with these behemoths, Scour eventually laid off 52 employees before running out of gas and liquidating its assets for auction. CenterSpace, formerly known as joystick maker ThrustMaster Corp., had chucked its gaming business away the previous year and switched gears to the P2P space. It just happened to come along at the right time to pick up Scour’s subscription base, outbidding by half a million dollars.

While CenterSpan’s intentions are noble (along with those of other P2P players who claim they will bring a viable subscription service to the market), it remains to be seen whether or not consumers would actually go for it. Moreover, the question as to how many such subscription services can co-exist on the market must be addressed. Remember, too, that Napster is gunning to roll out its own music subscription service with the help of Bertelsmann AG in July. Scour may have an advantage if it does indeed intend to offer downloadable movies.

That people would pony up for a digital subscription service is still very much a matter of debate, with

most studies finding that affluent men and women in their mid-twenties would gladly dole out cash for downloaded music and others claiming that high school and college students would never go for it.

Arguments for either side are legion and may debated for hours, but many analysts believe subscription services that companies are trying to bring to fruition to appease labels and artists will be perceived as sell-outs by consumers.

Scour’s pending beta testing comes at an interesting time, as Napster last week offered to filter copyrighted songs in district court, prompting millions of users to leap to their computers to snap up desired songs before they could be weeded out by artist name and file.

If millions of songs are done away with, as has been estimated by Napster officials, Scour Exchange might have a window of opportunity for users to give it a look later this month. Then again, music lovers may opt for Gnutella, a decentralized file-sharing schema with no true source identification point to single out rampant file swappers. Like Scour was a year ago, Gnutella is still as free of charge as it is of legal judgment.

Interested parties may participate in the Scour Exchange beta program by registering here.

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