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Onetime peer-to-peer bete noir Kazaa relaunches as legitimate music site

July 20, 2009 | 11:00 am

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The file-sharing service that once ranked at the top of the Recording Industry Assn. of America's hit list -- and by that, we don't mean popular -- relaunches today as a licensed music service.

Kazaa is reincarnated as a subscription service that offers more than 1 million tracks, including popular songs from the major record companies -- Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI -- hat once hauled the site's owners into an Australian court.

"We are delighted to deliver a fresh and exciting music platform to customers via an established icon like Kazaa," said Kevin Bermeister, the chief executive of Altnet Inc., an online distributor of licensed content and partner in Kazaa's reboot.

Kazaa's comeback is anything but assured. It's been nearly four years since the name "Kazaa" was associated with online music. And other file-sharing services that have gone legit, such as iMesh, met with limited success, largely because they lack the key to their earlier cache -- free music downloads. Even Napster, the original file-sharing site whose name is synonymous with digital downloads, has struggled as a new, paid service.

But Kazaa is not alone on the digital comeback trail.

The website Pirate Bay, whose owners were slapped with a prison sentence for allowing users to illegally trade in copyrighted content, is to be sold to Swedish firm Global Gaming, which runs cyber cafes.

Global Gaming Chief Executive Hans Pandeya has an unorthodox plan for reviving the site -- he hopes to coax Pirate Bay users to band together to allow their computers to be used to transmit data for Internet service providers. They would earn money that would make the cost of their music consumption free.

Former Grokster President Wayne Rosso, a vocal critic of the music industry, has been hired as a consultant to help with the relaunch. "Jaws is back; it's not safe to go back in the water," the acerbic Rosso quipped.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo credit: Michael Magle / Bloomberg News

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