No Napster? No problem 

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This week's Appeals court ruling nudges Napster closer to the brink, but the good news is this: Neither the record industry nor Napster has much power to control file sharing via any number of existing alternatives. Some leading contenders:

GNUTELLA.WEGO.COM -- The best-known alternative, Gnutella can't be shut down because there is no central server. Rather, it enables individuals to share directly with each other. Drawbacks: not as user-friendly, and as more seek it out, the system has been slowed by heavy traffic.

IMESH.COM -- Like Gnutella, a peer-to-peer program, but one that's easier to use and also allows the transfer of software, video and images in addition to MP3 music files. Drawbacks: smaller user base means smaller selection.

SCOUR.COM -- Though it is currently shut down due to legal challenges, Scour -- set to reopen as a legal service -- allows sharing of movie files and MP3s. Can be accessed from any browser. Drawbacks: Legal status means limited selection and, most likely, charges.

AIMSTER.COM -- Uses AOL's popular chat programs to share files via other file-trading networks, including Gnutella, Napster and (previously) Scour. Easy to use and difficult to trace.

FREENET.SOURCEFORGE.NET -- Still in development, this program aims to do it all: efficient, unblockable, untraceable access to all other trading networks. If it can deliver, this one could be the one for those in Napster withdrawal.

Now that the courts have established file sharing as a copyright violation, how long can individuals continue downloading music before the FBI comes seizing outlaw hard drives?

According to Atlanta entertainment attorney Bobby Rosenbloum, while the record industry would have a case against users, individuals have never been prosecuted. That said, given the lack of any visible enemy in peer-to-peer systems, the record industry could single out those who share a particularly large amount of files. In which case, look for the war of attrition to continue way past the fall of Napster.

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