There's an awful lot of history that goes into this story, and it's difficult to cover it all in a single blog post -- but we'll try to do the quickie version. Kazaa was a company, founded by the two guys who later went on to found Skype. Early on, they licensed the underlying technology to a company called Streamcast that offered a popular file sharing app called Morpheus. As the heat from the RIAA on Kazaa grew, the two guys apparently sold Kazaa off to a complicated shell
of a company called Sharman Networks. Around the same time, they cut off Streamcast, breaking most installations of Morpheus. Soon afterwards (or at the same time, depending on whose story you believe), Sharman teamed up with another company, called Brilliant Digital, which had a technology called Altnet. Altnet piggybacked
on Kazaa installations (in a sneaky early form of adware bundling
), trying to include a "legal" file sharing system that would pop up legal versions of songs you could buy. The recording industry claimed that Altnet was really a front for the people who truly controlled Kazaa, though that was never proven. However, in the midst of all this, Altnet surprised plenty of folks in the file sharing app business by announcing it held a patent
on using a hash to identify files (something plenty of folks would claim was not particularly unique at the time). They started threatening to sue other file sharing companies
which didn't win them many friends with folks who should have been their natural allies. Even suing the RIAA
for violating this patent in trying to track file sharing didn't seem to get them very far.
Fast forward a few years, and Streamcast is still miffed about Kazaa/Sharman/whoever cutting all its users off
from the underlying FastTrack network. Suddenly, they come out and claim that, despite all the buzz, Kazaa and FastTrack never really used a distributed network, but a centralized one
. That didn't get much traction, so earlier this year, the folks at Streamcast claimed that the whole big confusing shell was really a big ruse to keep them from owning the core technology
behind Kazaa, which they claim later went into Skype. With all this general animosity and lawsuits, it was only a matter of time before another one got thrown onto the pile. Now that Sharman has finally agreed to pay up and go straight
(thanks to millions of dollars in pocket change from Skype's founders
), Altnet is back in the news suing Streamcast for patent infringement
over the hash identification system. As the article notes, fewer and fewer file sharing systems are making use of such a method any more anyway (whether or not the underlying patent is valid) -- and no matter what the actual connection is between Altnet, Kazaa and Sharman, this seems like a move that's in response to some of these other disputes rather than any real concern over patent infringement.