Teenager Aimee Deep was worried. At 13, she'd joined the hordes of her peers chatting with her pals on AOL's Instant Messenger. But she was also smart enough to know how insecure the network was; wily hackers could easily eavesdrop. Couldn't her dad, a technology consultant, do something? What Johnny Deep did back in 1998 was build her a piece of code that made Messenger secure. Last year, he added an extra layer on which CD tracks could be traded in complete privacy and then propagated the whole program on the Web. The next phase of the free-music revolution had begun.
Now that Napster has been chastened by a district court injunction, it is Deep's rival swapping service, Aimster (named for Aimee), that threatens the recording industry more. The service is almost identical to Napster in the way that songs can be easily searched for and downloaded, but unlike Napster it has a ready-built market, since 60 million people already use Instant Messenger. In an attempt to forestall any legal action by the music industry, Deep has hired top lawyer David Boies and petitioned a federal judge to issue a declaratory judgment on whether his service is legitimate. "We're just a privacy service that encrypts files for you," Deep says with a sly smile, "whereas Napster was well known as a music-swapping service."
Deep, 43, has made Aimster the leader of a pack of Napster successors, in part by riding his daughter's image as far as it will go. Now 16, Aimee graces Aimster's home page in a split evening dress, Britney Spears hairdo and a camera-melting pout, under the slogan "Can't Touch This!" She has become a figure of worship in dotcom offices. It's hard to tell exactly how much her presence has affected downloads, but more than 4.4 million people now use Aimster, and 200,000 more join every week.
Although he won't say it in so many words, Deep's aim is to keep the spirit of Napster alive. Just in case his legal maneuver doesn't work, he is already parlaying Aimster's notoriety into a business of building secure networks for corporations. Aimee is mulling a career in modeling. In the meantime, thanks to her angst at 13, free music has a face to take Shawn Fanning's place. --By Chris Taylor