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Kazaa

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. It is also increasingly being used to exchange movie files. The official client can be downloaded free of charge and is financed by attached adware and spyware.

History

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 judgment, 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, although a recent judgement by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a related lawsuite against a similar FastTrack client Grokster appears to take away the basis for the US Kazaa suit. That decision is currently under appeal to the US Supreme Court and a decision is expected in 2005.

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 with monetary payments averaging $3,000. 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 below) was used in the investigation to track down the individual file sharers. An effort to throw out this suit was denied in January 2004.

In February 2004, the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) announced its own legal action against Kazaa, alleging massive copyright breaches. The trial began on November 29, 2004, and closing statements are expected in March 2005.

Program

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 and leaves legitimate third-party clients suffering.

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 or adware onto users' computers. Sharman, Kazaa's home company, claims that the products are adware and do not collect personal user information. At one time, the part of the Kazaa code which was considered adware 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.

Adware installed by Kazaa includes:

  • 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 - A distribution network for paid "gold" files.

As a result of these additional components, CNet's Download.com site stopped the distribution of KaZaA in April 2004.

Variations

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 early 2005, this hasn't happened.

After development of Kazaa Lite stopped, Kazaa Lite Tools K++ and Kazaa Lite Resurrection appeared. These are slightly modified versions of Kazaa Lite. Other programmers produced 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 developers 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. Other forms of scams are versions of Kazaa with malware, such as Kazaa Lite Revolutions. [1] (http://www.kltforums.com/?showtopic=2357&view=findpost&p=14655)

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.

News

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