A British student is to be ordered to shut his website by file-sharing service Kazaa or face legal action.
Shaun Garriock, an 18-year-old computer science student at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, incurred the wrath of the biggest online music service in the world when he launched a cracked version of its P2P (peer-to-peer) program on the web minus the user-tracking and advertising components.
KazaaLite has been downloaded more than 80,000 times since it was launched on 23 March.
Now Kazaa is furious and is preparing to serve 'cease and desist' notices against Garriock and the alleged creator of the software, a Russian programmer known only as 'Yuri', who is believed to be based in Moscow.
It is also sending a notice to one other site offering the program, thought to be the Netherlands-based kazaalite.lunarpages.com.
"We're being ripped off and we mean to stamp it out," said Nikki Hemming, chief executive of Sharman Networks. "We're protecting our brand," she added.
Hemming admitted that the hacked software was an annoyance, but emphasised that the number of KazaaLite downloads still only represented one percent of Kazaa's downloads.
But Garriock countered that Kazaa's attempts to move against webmasters of sites offering the software are doomed to failure.
"I don't see them stopping it now, it's become too big. Even if they close down all the sites, the program will live through on the network," he told PC Advisor. According to Garriock, the cracked version is now available via Kazaa itself.
Observers have pointed out the extraordinary irony of Kazaa's move — it has challenged legal action against itself by record labels that claim it is infringing music copyright.
"There's an amusing parallel there between what Kazaa is trying to do and what the record companies have been trying to do to it," said Julian Midgley, co-ordinator for the Campaign for Digital Rights. But Midgley added that Kazaa was within its rights to crack down on hacked versions of its software.
"It's going to be really bad press coverage for Kazaa if they start suing sites that offer the software for free," said Garriock.
"Kazaa's a brilliant program but they put far too much other stuff in it. When I found out about all the hidden applications within the program, I was like: 'I'm not putting that on my machine. I don't want my privacy invaded'," he added.
Kazaa's deal with Brilliant Digital Entertainment has been the subject of intense controversy. BDE has been distributing its Altnet software with Kazaa Media Desktop since last autumn. BDE plans to use Altnet to turn Kazaa users' computers into links to host and distribute advertising or music in a new profit-making P2P network.
"When I receive a cease and desist order I'll stop," said Garriock. "But Kazaa should worry about the big users. They're the ones with gigabytes of MP3s and the bandwidth to be able to support the FastTrack network. If they leave because they fear for their privacy, no one will use Kazaa because there simply won't be enough content up there," said Garriock.
Meanwhile, Hemming warned people using cracked versions of Kazaa that they were putting themselves at risk from viruses and hackers, because there was no guarantee the 'lite' versions contain the same security measures as the official one.
Garriock first came across the program on a forum of www.xp-erience.org under the title 'Kazaa without all the fat and cholesterol'. He then decided to offer the application for download on his website, hosted in Texas.
But Garriock was sceptical about Kazaa's attempts to track down the Russian programmer, Yuri.
"He's been very successful at protecting his identity so far," he said. Garriock claimed he receives correspondence from Yuri about once a month. Each time the Russian has used a different email address. Although some observers have suggested 'Yuri' is a pseudonym to protect the program's real creators, Kazaa believes he does exist.
There are now between 2,000 and 3,000 users on KazaaLite.com at any one time. Garriock added that he is astonished by KazaaLite's success. "It's become bigger than I ever, ever thought it would be," he said.