Most of us out there in the computer age have a very large digital media collection and a lot of us want to share it with family and friends. Thanks to two media savvy pros it?s now possible to do this at no cost to you. A software program called Grouper seems to be the new answer to this popular problem. Grouper was developed and started by founders Josh Felser and David Samuel. If these names don?t sound familiar, they should. Felser and Samuel both co-founded and operated Spinner.com until it was purchased by AOL in May of 1999 for a cool $320 million. Spinner was promptly renamed to AOL Radio and is now one of the largest online broadcasters.
The two are at it again with Grouper by creating a new way for us to share media content with each other. According to PC Magazine (Nov. 30 2004 issue) the two cite limitations on share features with other services as the reason they created Grouper. ?E-mails would be blocked because the media files were too big,? says Felser. ?Burning discs or memory sticks for friends would take too long and cost too much. Uploading files to Web sites was just as slow.?
In the same article Felser also notes that peer-to-peer features, limited group size, and a free sharing model are Grouper?s strong points. You can stream music from PC to PC which does not violate copyright laws because it?s classified as a private performance. Felser also says ?One of my frustrations with Ofoto has been that I can?t just let friends print out pictures stored there. They have to pay. With Grouper, they can browse thumbnails of photos on my hard drive and download whichever ones they choose?
So at this point I guess the main question that most of us are asking is ?Is sharing my digital media content still illegal?? To help answer that question, here is an excerpt from the Grouper?s legal section of their web site:
Grouper?s innovative software seeks to replicate the real world environment of close friends and family privately playing music for each other. Grouper does not permit the transfer of MP3 or WMA audio files?music is shared among members by streaming to a built-in Grouper media player. Grouper does not permit copyrighted music files to be transferred permanently from one computer to another, and Grouper does not facilitate groups larger than 30 members.
Sharing music?but not files?among small groups of existing friends falls under the legal definition of ?private performance,? which is protected under US copyright law. Streaming private performances have not been challenged as a legal means of sharing musical tastes and new artistic finds. ?
At this point in time, Grouper is free to the public and as you can see, if it is used in a small network of friends it is legal to use and stream your files.
If you?re wondering about security, Grouper has a robust 256-bit encryption on all files and instant messages. This insures that all digital content on your computer stays secure. All of the communications between group members, including all of the file transfers and streaming media is fully encrypted and only Grouper members can browse other members shared files.
Grouper also states in a press release that they maintain no central server that stores content and that user-designated data is only transferred from one users computer to another and with in that user?s group. Grouper boasts that it will always offer a free version of its software and that it will always be free of adware and spyware. The company plans to generate their revenue from group sponsorships and from fee-based premium versions of its software.
Grouper is ideal to share and download personal media files in small groups by streaming music with your friends, instant messaging, and chatting with group members. Grouper appears to be great for school study groups, Professors and TA?s, and according to Grouper (coming soon) a Lower Cost Networks for university network administrators allowing students the ability to legally share personal files amongst themselves.
Grouper currently only works with the latest versions Microsoft Operating systems, XP and 2000 with Windows Media 9 for best performance. They fully intend to add new operating systems in the future. Grouper does support XP Service Pack 2.
For those of you that have a tight circle of friends that want to share your personal media but are concerned about security, Grouper might be worth looking into as a possible solution. This new product is sure to attract attention from the RIAA and Hollywood, but if it is able to stay in the clear, we can expect a slue of similar products entering the marketplace.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.