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The peer-to-peer world today is about to enter a new phase with the impending launch of Mashboxx. Rosso says the launch date of the beta version of his new service – which will have a major label partner next week – is imminent. Mashboxx will be deployed with both a centralized element, which the labels can control, and a decentralized element, which will be run by users.

Users will connect with each other over a decentralized network, looking for music files on other’s hard drives. If the file being swapped is owned by one of Mashboxx’s partner labels, the song will be downloaded directly from the Mashboxx servers, and will be playable only on that user’s computer, with no burning or transfer options. A “Buy this song” link will sit next to the song. If the user decides to buy the track, he or she will get full burning and transfer rights.

If the file isn’t owned by a Mashboxx partner, users will be able to download the song – free and clear – directly from a peer on the Mashboxx network.

Rosso isn’t the only member of P2P’s old guard who’s taking a shot at developing file-trading networks – this time working with the record labels instead of against them. Shawn Fanning, the founder of Napster, is currently running Snocap, a company that handles the back-end file management requirements for legal peer-to-peer services such as Mashboxx.

No one expects the recording industry to simply shrug its shoulders and walk away from the case, of course, if the Supreme Court rules in Grokster and Streamcast’s favor. The next course of action for the labels, say observers, will be to lobby Congress for tougher legislation against file-sharing.

Putting the decision in Congress’ hands isn’t such a bad idea, says one Grokster defender.

“This rapidly changing technology environment is best addressed by Congress,” says EFF’s Seltzer. “If Congress thinks copyright needs to be changed to address specific technology issues, it can address that in a number of ways. For example, it can create compulsory licenses or royalty pools…But the courts can only say there’s liability or no liability.”

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