In a move that sets the stage for the emergence of major-label-sanctioned peer-to-peer services, Universal Music Group has become the first of the top four music companies to ink a licensing deal with

In a move that sets the stage for the emergence of major-label-sanctioned peer-to-peer services, Universal Music Group has become the first of the top four music companies to ink a licensing deal with Snocap, the new P2P filtering venture from Napster founder Shawn Fanning.

Snocap isn't a P2P engine itself. Instead, it is a technology embedded in a P2P network to block sharing of unauthorized works -- including unlicensed music and pornography -- and facilitate commercial transactions. Sources say the UMG deal includes the label's entire catalog. A UMG rep could not be reached for comment.

San Francisco-based Snocap has been quietly demonstrating its technology to the major labels for some time, and buzz has been building since early this year.

Sony and Snocap are said to be in talks for an alliance; however, no deal has been announced yet. Sources closes to Sony acknowledge the company is exploring legitimate P2P opportunities.

The majors' embrace of Snocap appears to be the latest tactic in their bid to rein in operators of illicit P2P networks. While the Recording Industry Association of America continues to hammer away at P2P services in the courts and in Congress, the labels are using the prospect of content licenses as a new carrot to get file-sharing companies to police their networks.

However, an alliance between Snocap and the majors would be just one step in a larger process to develop legitimate P2P services. Whether P2P operators take the bait remains to be seen. The adoption of a filtering solution runs counter to their longstanding contention that it is not possible to control the flow of content through their networks.

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