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KaZaA Media Desktop is a peer-to-peer file sharing application using the FastTrack protocol; it is commonly used to exchange mp3 music files and is (as of 2003) the most popular application for this purpose. It is also increasingly being used to exchange movie files. It can be downloaded free and is financed by the spyware and adware installed as default with the main product. KaZaA and the FastTrack protocol are the brainchild of the Swedes Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis and were introduced in March 2001 by their Dutch company Consumer Empowerment.

Currently, the program is released only for the Windows operating system. It can be run on Linux, Mac OS X and other operating systems with emulation software like WINE and Virtual PC.

KaZaA is very similar to the programs Morpheus and Grokster, which use(d) the same protocol. This decentralized peer-to-peer technology is similar to that of Gnutella.

Many consider KaZaA to be superior to other file sharing programs because of its file selection and fast transfer speeds. Some counter this by pointing to KaZaA's use of spyware and adware. The Altnet software, also installed by default, is another problem as it allocates users' bandwidth to serve advertisements to others. However, Altnet also has a service which lets users download encrypted songs for money, thus providing a legal alternative to the exchanging of copyrighted music.

KaZaA uses a "participation level" system which rewards participants who share much material with fast downloads.

Variations of the program

In August 2003, KaZaA Plus was introduced by Sharman Networks, to act as a paid-for premium service. KaZaA Plus doesn't have spyware and adware.

Kazaa Lite (also called K-Lite) is a modified version of the KaZaA Media Desktop application which excludes adware and spyware and provides slightly extended functionality. It connects to the same FastTrack network and thus allows to exchange files with all KaZaA users; it can be downloaded free. It was created by third party programmers by modifying the binary of the original KaZaA application. Included with recent versions of KaZaA Lite is K++, a memory patcher that removes search limit restrictions, multisource limits, and sets one's "participation level" to the maximum of 1000.

The K-Lite application is available on the FastTrack network and can be downloaded with KaZaA. On August 11, 2003, Sharman sent a letter to Google requesting that all links to Kazaa Lite be removed from their database, as they consider Kazaa Lite to be a copyright violation. During December 2003 Sharman Networks emailed the hosts of all sites with a copy of K++, threatening legal action if it was not removed. Therefore it is difficult to get and is no longer on the official website. There are still some websites on which it is available. And it is widely available on the Kazaa Network itself. There are rumours that new versions of Kazaa prevent K-Lite users from connecting to their supernodes. This may be Sharman's plan to segregate K++ to it's own protocol on the FastTrack network.

See the FastTrack article on the efforts to reverse engineer the FastTrack protocol and thus let open source clients exchange files with KaZaA users.

Legal wrangling

Like the creators of many similar products, KaZaA's creators have been taken to court by music publishing bodies to restrict its use in the sharing of copyrighted material. Consumer Empowerment was taken to court in the Netherlands in 2001 by the Dutch music publishing body, Buma/Stemra. The court ordered KaZaA to take steps to prevent its users from violating copyrights or else pay a heavy fine. The owners responded by selling the KaZaA application to the company Sharman Networks, headquartered in Australia and incorporated in Vanuatu. A court of appeal in late March 2002 reversed the earlier judgement, stating that KaZaA was not responsible for the actions of its users. In 2002, Sharman was sued in Los Angeles by the RIAA and the MPAA. That lawsuit is still pending. Sharman responded with an antitrust countersuit, which was dismissed in July 2003. Sharman further claimed that it couldn't be sued in California as it lacked substantial contacts with the state; this claim was also dismissed in July 2003.

In September 2003, the RIAA filed suit in civil court against several private individuals who had shared large numbers of files with KaZaA; most of these suits were settled. As a result, traffic on the FastTrack network has decreased about 10-15%. Sharman networks responded with a lawsuit against the RIAA, alleging that the terms of use of the network were violated and that unauthorized client software (such as Kazaa Lite, see above) was used in the investigation to track down the individual file sharers.

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