BearShare Returns as Legal P2P Service

BearShare has returned, but this time as a legal service. New owners iMesh said Thursday they were releasing a beta version of the software through their subsidiary MusicLab, which will operate using a paid subscription and single-track purchase model.

Free Peers, the original company behind BearShare, agreed in May to pay $30 million to the Recording Industry Association of America to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit. The company also disbanded and promised to not operate any unlicensed music download services.

In addition to the P2P functionality, the company will also build in social networking features into BearShare. This would allow users to create and share music profiles through the network. Much like MySpace, users would be able to add other members as "friends" to their personal BearShare homepage, as well as comment and instant message through the service.

iMesh also said the features would be ported to the company's own client in the coming weeks. Later this year, iMesh and BearShare users will be able to interact.

"In our continuing effort to grow the authorized P2P marketplace, we gave full consideration to the rights of copyright holders while introducing features that greatly enhance the consumer experience," iMesh executive chairman Robert Summer said in the announcement.

A total of 15 million songs and videos would be made available for trading, including 2.5 million premium licensed songs. iMesh said it would support all MP3 and PlaysForSure devices, although premium protected content would require a player that uses Microsoft's digital rights management system, meaning users of Apple's iPod are not supported.

The company will offer a 30-day free trial to those interested in trying out BearShare. After the trial period, the plan would automatically transition to a subscription plan. iMesh has not determined the monthly fee as of yet, it said.

With the launch of the new BearShare, iMesh says it is now the largest active legal P2P-based service. The company's own P2P client was the first to go legal, launching in October of last year. The original iMesh was founded in 1999 and enjoyed several years of success before it was sued in September 2003 by the RIAA, and was forced to shut down.

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