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While the music industry attempts to shutter peer-to-peer services in court and in Congress, one company is using P2P networks to promote and pay artists.

Shared Media Licensing, based in Seattle, offers Weed http://www.weedshare.com/, a software program that allows interested music fans to download a song and play it three times for free. They are prompted to pay for the "Weed file" the fourth time. Songs cost about a dollar and can be burned to an unlimited number of CDs, passed around on file-sharing networks and posted to Web pages.

We're trying to take the problem of unauthorized music sharing and turn it into an opportunity for everyone to participate in the music business," said John Beezer, president of Shared Media Licensing. In addition to launching its home website, the company recently joined eBay's digital music distribution program with its own store http://stores.ebay.com/WeedShare.

Each time the song is downloaded by a new listener, the Weed file resets itself so the same rules apply: three free plays, then pay. The music can also be transferred to Windows portable media devices.

Shared Media Licensing makes the Weed purchasing software and channels the money to the artists and distributors. Over 100 independent content providers find the music, clear the rights, manage the files and promote the distribution and sales on their own websites.

Weed also encourages sharing by awarding a commission to people who pass the songs on to friends who then buy it. The copyright owner always gets 50 percent of each sale. Weed gets 15 percent for service and software costs. The fan who passes the music along gets 20 percent of the sale if a friend buys the track.

CD Baby http://www.cdbaby.com/ is the largest Weed content provider with over 60,000 titles, according to Beezer. About 80,000 Weed tracks are available. Well-known artists who have signed on to distribute some of their music this way include Chuck D, Heart, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Built to Spill and Kristin Hersh.

Brian Hardgroove - band leader for Public Enemy http://www.publicenemy.com/ and bass player from Fine Arts Militia http://www.fineartsmilitia.com/ (another Chuck D group) - compared Weed to Robin Hood. While the major labels continue to sue people for file sharing, he said, Weed rewards files sharing.

"A lot of artists are caught in the middle," Hardgroove said. "They want a fan base and they want a machinery to put the records out, but the machinery becomes prohibitive."

Singer-songwriter Stacie Rose http://www.stacierose.com/ said Weed is a great way for people to find new artists.

"Because CDs are so expensive, sometimes people don't want to take a chance (buying a full CD) with a new artist," Rose said. "The whole idea of (Weed) is really cool."

"Basically the fans are promoting the music that they love," said Jeff Leisawitz, president of Weedfiles http://www.weedfiles.com/, a content provider that has signed about 75 artists, including Heart. "Love Hurts," the band's exclusive track, debuted over the summer on Weedfiles at the same time the record was released.

"It's not a pyramid scheme," Beezer said. But those who are motivated to get others interested in the music can make some money if people opt to buy the tracks.

Weed is also participating in the P2P Revenue Engine project organized by the Distributed Computing Industry Association http://www.dcia.info/, which seeks to demonstrate to entertainment companies how they can use peer-to-peer services to make money.

"This is a good evolution from free peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa," said Thomas Dolby Robertson, who recorded the '80s hit, "She Blinded Me with Science," and is now president of Retro RingTones http://www.retroringtones.co.uk/. He's also considering using the service for his music. "It seems like such a simple idea. I wonder why they guys at Napster didn't think about this. They never really got around to implementing any fair payment mechanism."

One analyst said the Weed service is an admirable idea and is important for the growth of digital music. The challenge is building the traffic for Weed services.

"This is giving a relatively low-cost distribution alternative to these creators out there," said Mike McGuire, research director at Gartner/G2. "It uses some of the same methods for music discovery and sharing (as P2P networks). That's very powerful."

- "File Sharing Growing Like a Weed," Katie Dean, WiredNews.com http://www.wired.com/, November 22, 2004, http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,65774,00.html