A friend just e-mailed this to me and I thought ya'll might find it interesting...
FILE-SHARING PROGRAM SLIPS OUT OF AOL OFFICES
By AMY HARMON
New York Times
June 2, 2003
AOL Time Warner is trying to stop the spread of new software released by its
Nullsoft division, whose founder and lead programmer, Justin Frankel, is
known for leaking his work onto the Internet and causing headaches for his
The new program makes it easy for groups of about 50 people to set up
file-sharing networks that are secure and private. In addition to letting
users search for and download files, it includes an instant messaging
feature that could be seen as competition for AOL Instant Messenger, which
provides AOL with a crucial presence on millions of computer screens.
The software's documentation says it is designed to allow small business
groups to collaborate. But encrypted networks are also the next holy grail
for Internet file-swappers as media companies -- including AOL -- prepare to
file lawsuits against people who copy music without paying for it by using
publicly accessible programs like KaZaA.
Mr. Frankel, 24, went to work for AOL when it bought his four-person
company, Nullsoft, in 1999 for stock worth $80 million. The author of
Winamp, software that helped popularize the MP3 music format on the
Internet, Mr. Frankel has seemed intent on retaining his hacker credibility
even while working for one of the world's largest media conglomerates.
The release of the new program late Wednesday night on the Nullsoft Web site
echoed the release in March 2000 of Gnutella, designed by Mr. Frankel and
his team, which was available on the Nullsoft site for a few hours in March
2000 before AOL removed it.
With Napster mired in litigation, Gnutella provided a framework that
developers used to build a system that could mimic Napster's functions
without a central server, thus making it almost impossible to shut down.
Gnutella and its clones are now widely used to trade, among other things,
movies and music from AOL's entertainment divisions.
Mr. Frankel and his team later developed a free add-on to the Winamp player
that searched the Web for MP3 files. AOL quickly removed that project from
the Nullsoft site, too.
Nullsoft then released AIMazing, software to replace banner advertising on
AOL's instant messenger with images of sound waves and music. It remains
available on the Web, though not on the Nullsoft site.
Mr. Frankel, who lists his title as "benevolent dictator" of the Nullsoft
team, is a bit of a self-styled rebel, once proclaiming in his public weblog
that he needs to continue doing things that are "cool." But he has been
largely silent since the Gnutella episode, which came just as AOL was
merging with Time Warner.
The Nullsoft team's wishful description of themselves online as "legitimate
nihilistic media terrorists" (the company name is a jab at Microsoft) also
appears to have vanished.
Their new program is called Waste, in an apparent allusion to the
underground postal system that allowed people to evade the authorities in
the Thomas Pynchon novel "The Crying of Lot 49." Its release as a free
download, complete with the underlying source code, elicited cheers from Mr.
Frankel's Internet fans.
In a message to an Internet discussion list he runs on the convergence of
entertainment and technology, John Parres suggested that Mr. Frankel's aim
was not to facilitate copyright infringement but free speech. "Justin is a
21st century code warrior freedom fighter," he wrote.
Whatever Mr. Frankel's cause, AOL was anything but enthusiastic. Less than
24 hours after the new program was released, the company pulled it from the
Nullosft site. On Friday evening, it posted a stern warning informing anyone
who had obtained a copy that the release had not been authorized.
"You acquired no lawful rights to the software and must destroy any and all
copies of the software, including by deleting it from your computer," the
notice reads. "Any license that you may believe you acquired with the
software is void, revoked and terminated."
Some critics suggested that the program's developers may not have cleared
all the rights to the encryption technology they used, or may lack the
export license required for many encryption products.
An AOL spokeswoman said the company had no further comment. Mr. Frankel did
not respond to e-mail or phone messages.