Kazaa Media Desktop (once capitalized as "KaZaA", but now usually left as "Kazaa") 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 late 2004) the 2nd most popular application for this purpose (the first being BitTorrent). It is also increasingly being used to exchange movie files. The official client can be downloaded free of charge and is financed by attached spyware and adware.
Kazaa and the FastTrack protocol are the brainchild of the Scandinavians Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis and were introduced in March 2001 by their Dutch company Consumer Empowerment. It appeared during the end of the first generation of P2P networks – Napster shut down in July of that year.
Its initial userbase was made up of users of the Morpheus program, formerly a client of MusicCity. However, once the official Kazaa client became more widespread, its developers used their ability to automatically update it, changing the protocol in February 2002 to shut out Morpheus clients when its developers failed to pay license fees. (Morpheus subsequently became a client of Gnutella.)
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. In November 2001, the court ordered Kazaa's owners to take steps to prevent its users from violating copyrights or else pay a heavy fine. Consumer Empowerment responded by selling the Kazaa application to a complicated mesh of offshore companies, primarily 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. However, 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, claiming that the major music labels had conspired to shut out Sharman's secure music distribution service based on Altnet. The suit 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 February 2004, the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) announced its own legal action against Kazaa, alleging massive copyright breaches. The organization's chief piracy investigator said "This is the largest copyright infringement case in Australia", "these people are the largest infringers of copyright in the world", and added that their operation is "based almost entirely on illegal traffic." The trial began on November 29, 2004, with the ARIA telling the court in its opening statement that Kazaa had "produced the biggest music piracy system ever seen".
Currently, Kazaa has been 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.
Many consider Kazaa to be superior to other file sharing programs because of its wide file selection and fast transfer speeds. While it is the P2P network with the largest installed userbase, it is worth noting that the Kazaa client installs spyware onto the user's machine, with potential security and privacy implications.
Kazaa uses a "participation level" system intended to reward participants who share much material with fast downloads. This is subverted by most of the unofficial clients.
The number of users connected to the Kazaa network at any given time fluctuates between 1 million and 5 million users, with the average usually being around 3 million. There are over 1.5 billion files on the network totalling 26 petabytes, with about 1,000 downloads every minute.
Allegations of malware
Kazaa has, from early on, been accused of installing spyware and/or adware onto users' computers. Brilliant Digital, Kazaa's home company, has always denied that they did any such thing. However, their definition of spyware differs from that generally used. At one time, the part of the Kazaa code which was considered spyware by neutral observers was an optional, though technically difficult not to install, part of the Kazaa installation. Since the allegations have surfaced, however, the code has been bundled into the main Kazaa software, and it is not possible to uninstall it. Also, spyware detection and removal software has frequently failed to delete the code without special actions taken by the PC user.
Spyware/adware installed by Kazaa includes:
- New.net - Filters all web address requests through the DNS servers of New.net.
- SaveNow - Monitors what sites the PC user visits and pops up sponsored "deals".
- Cydoor - Collects information on the PC's surfing habits and passes it on to the company which created Cydoor.
- B3D - An add-on which causes advertising popups if the PC accesses a website which triggers the B3D code.
- Altnet - An advertising network which allocates users' bandwidth to serve advertisements to others.
As a result of these hidden features, especially Altnet, CNet's Download.com site stopped the distribution of KaZaA in April 2004.
This section is limited to those programs which are based on the official Kazaa client. For other FastTrack-compatible clients, see FastTrack.
Kazaa Lite is an unauthorized modification of the Kazaa Media Desktop application which excludes adware and spyware and provides slightly extended functionality. It became available in April 2002. It can be downloaded free of charge, and as of 2004 is almost as widely used as the official Kazaa client itself. It connects to the same FastTrack network and thus allows to exchange files with all Kazaa users. It was created by third party programmers by modifying the binary of the original Kazaa application. Later versions of Kazaa Lite included K++, a memory patcher that removes search limit restrictions, multisource limits, and sets one's "participation level" to the maximum of 1000.
Sharman Networks considers Kazaa Lite to be a copyright violation. On August 11, 2003, they sent a letter to Google requesting that all links to the Kazaa Lite application be removed from their database. During December 2003 Sharman emailed the owners of all sites hosting a copy of Kazaa Lite, threatening legal action if it was not removed. Because of this, the program was for a while difficult to find on the web, and development of it stopped. As of mid-2004, the program is again widely available. It also remains available on the FastTrack network itself, where it can be downloaded with Kazaa or any other FastTrack client. There are rumours that new versions of Sharman's Kazaa will prevent Kazaa Lite from connecting to the FastTrack network, but as of late 2004, this hasn't happened.
After development of Kazaa Lite stopped, Kazaa Lite Resurrection appeared. It is a slightly modified version of Kazaa Lite. Other programmers produced Clean KMD, Kazaa Lite Tools K++, K-Lite v2.6/2.71, and Diet K. These programs don't include any code by Sharman: they require the user to supply the original, unpatched Kazaa Media Desktop, and they execute it in an environment which removes the malware and adds some features. The authors believe that these versions might therefore be legal. They also hope that since these clients use newer versions of the actual Kazaa program, they won't be affected by attempts to block Kazaa Lite from the network.
1 Note: Although K-Lite is related to Kazaa Lite and the name sounds similar, they are actually different projects. K-Lite is not an update to Kazaa Lite, and was instead written separately with many fundamental changes. Unlike Kazaa Lite, which is a modification of an old version of Kazaa, K-Lite v2.6 requires the original KMD 2.6 executable to run. In November 2004, the developershttp://www.my-k-lite.com/ of K-Lite released K-Lite v2.7, which similarly requires the KMD 2.7 executable.
The confusion over the status of Kazaa Lite was exploited by the owners of the deceptively titled website http://k-lite-legal.com/ to sell subscriptions to a music download service unrelated to the Kazaa Lite application. Many other websites have also attempted to scam people into paying for something that sounds like Kazaa Lite but is actually some other service which is already free.
In August 2003, Kazaa Plus was introduced by Sharman Networks. This is a paid-for premium version with no spyware or adware. In an attempt to cash in on the Kazaa name, another commercial version called Kazaa Gold has been produced. This is not an actual product of Sharman Networks.
Sites about K-Lite and variants
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