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German media giant Bertelsmann, a former investor in the Napster file-sharing network, is taking another stab at peer-to-peer technology with a new service for downloading and sharing movies, games, and other content over the Internet.

The service, called GNAP, will allow mobile and fixed network operators, ISPs, TV stations, and other content distributors to market large downloadable files both legally and cost efficiently, Arvato spokesperson Gernot Wolf says. Arvato is the services and technology arm of Bertelsmann.

The new service has both centralized and decentralized components, according to Wolf. On the one hand, it uses a central server to store content and process DRM (Digital Rights Management) transactions. On the other, it offers users the opportunity to download and store content on their own computers and share it with others via P-to-P technology .

"In this way, content distributors don't have to invest in huge network capacity to be able to provide, say, 100 downloads at once but rather can take advantage of the storage capacity of its P-to-P customers," he says.

Users who choose to download a film or game from another user because, say, the central server is already flooded with requests must still pay for the film. "Each transaction within the user community is session controlled," Wolf says. "Our technology knows that customer A, for instance, has received a movie from customer B, so we have a strong control over copyrights."

End users must install GNAP client software to be able to use the software, according to Wolf.

Cutting Costs

In addition to copyright protection, GNAP offers content distributors a cost-efficient way for numerous customers to download large files at once. "It's not economic today for many companies to offer an on-demand download service for movies and games if they have to invest in all the necessary storage and networking equipment themselves," Wolf says. "GNAP makes this service more affordable with P-to-P by allowing users to choose alternative sites to download."

Arvato has completed beta testing of the GNAP service and is conducting "technical due diligence" tests with holders of content licenses "to ensure that all security requirements are met," Wolf says.

The Bertelsmann subsidiary hopes to sign up the first customers at the end of the second quarter, according to Wolf.

Bertelsmann, a co-owner of the Sony BMG music label with Sony, teamed with the former Napster in October 2000, only to see the service sued by the music industry for copyright infringements. Napster was later acquired by Roxio , which has since sold off its software business to become Napster.