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Already, new models along those lines are emerging, as entrepreneurs and nonprofit programmer cabals carry out their experiments in public. In June, I visited angrycoffee.com, one of several Web sites devoted to musical file sharing. Angry Coffee’s search engine, dubbed Percolator, uses two imitation-Napster programs (MyNapster and OpenNap) to do its searches. It used to deploy Napster as well, but then the older company told it to stop. ("We think it’s lame that a company that built its business through unauthorized distribution would consider Percolator to be an unauthorized use of their resources," a note on the Angry Coffee site explains, "but they’re entitled to their opinion.")
You don’t need to download any software to use Angry Coffee, which is nice. Even better, it’s a lot faster than Napster. Where the older program might take half an hour to do a download, Angry Coffee typically took me just a few minutes. I hit several bugs as well–the site is still in its beta stage, techie-speak for "we’re ironing out the kinks"–but I found only one grievous flaw in the system. When I tried to download a Beck rarity called "MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack," I instead received this annoying message: "Remote user is behind a firewall. Download option from such users is yet to be implemented." This problem recurred with alarming frequency.
In the meantime, I was noticing something: Each time I did a search, the list was preceded by a promo for a different band or musician, none of whom I’d heard of. These, I soon gathered, were independent musicians who’d signed agreements with Angry Coffee; the music search was there to draw me in, in hopes that I’d try out one of the bands. I decided to check out a group called Truman Peyote–if nothing else, they had a cool name–and discovered that the band included Angry Coffee’s CEO, Adam Powell (no relation to the Adam Powell who occasionally writes for REASON).
I downloaded one of its songs, which turned out to be a competent piece of funk-rock, then explored the site’s roster of artists some more. A Northern California act called Grace was described as "alternamericanacore," which I decided must be the 21st-century term for the genre once called "cowpunk." Listening to one of its songs proved otherwise: The term actually denoted a rather impressive imitation of the Brit folk-rocker Richard Thompson. I made a mental note to check whether Grace would be playing any shows in my area anytime soon.
When I called Angry Coffee, CEO Powell answered the phone. After deriding Napster as a dinosaur and announcing his intention to add yet more search programs to Percolator, he claimed that Angry Coffee’s featured artists were getting 200 or 300 downloads a day. Its other acts, he added, were getting 50 to 100. Powell hopes the exposure will soon land someone a recording contract. He also assured me that the company’s program guru is trying to fix the firewall problem. Right now, it’s the debit side of a tradeoff: Because searchers use the site anonymously, they can’t reach past those digital barriers.
I wished Powell luck, wondering how long it would take the RIAA to haul his company into court–and knowing that no number of lawsuits could stem the online revolution he represents.