Lower courts have sided with the software makers, which assert their so-called peer-to-peer technology is as legitimate as a videocassette recorder or a copy machine.

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LOS ANGELES — Recording-industry executive Andy Gershon sees opportunity in the online file-sharing networks that most of his rivals decry as havens for music pirates.

As president of V2 Records, home to such established acts as The White Stripes and Moby, Gershon mines such Internet distribution channels for new fans and revenues.

“The cat is so far out of the bag and so far gone that it’s pointless to keep fighting it,” Gershon said. “I might as well make as many people fans of our music, whether they illegally download it or not.”

A number of mostly independent recording artists and labels have experimented with and embraced the freewheeling digital distribution that the Internet affords. And many worry that a victory by major recording companies in a landmark file-sharing case now before the U.S. Supreme Court could short-circuit the very technologies that they think are making a more level playing field of the music business.

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The nation’s high court is to hear arguments Tuesday on whether the entertainment industry can hold file-sharing software firms Grokster and StreamCast Networks, which distributes Morpheus, liable for what computer users do with the technology.

Lower courts have sided with the software makers, which assert their so-called peer-to-peer technology is as legitimate as a videocassette recorder or a copy machine.

Several artist-rights associations, music publishers and well-known musicians, including Don Henley, Sheryl Crow and the Dixie Chicks, are backing the major recording labels, which accuse Grokster and StreamCast of profiting from a business model that depends on piracy.

From 1999 to 2004, the total value of the U.S. recording industry fell $2.4 billion to $12.1 billion — a decline the industry blames primarily on file-sharing.

But some artists, including Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, see an upside to file-sharing.

“I look at it as a library. I look at it as our version of the radio,” Tweedy said. “It’s a place where basically we can encourage fans to be fans and not feel like they’re being exploited, which is basically what the whole industry is geared to do.”

Mitch Bainwol, chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America, says artists and labels can be creative with online distribution but those decisions should not be left up to listeners.

“If you want to give up your property for free as a way of trying to drive other commercial advantages, that is certainly a strategy one can employ,” Bainwol said. “But it should be the individual [artist’s] choice.”

About 20 independent recording artists, including musician and producer Brian Eno, rockers Heart and rapper-activist Chuck D, filed a legal brief with the high court in support of Grokster and StreamCast. They insist file-sharing and related technologies help expose new audiences to their music.

Some are concerned about the possibility of requiring file-sharing companies to filter out unauthorized works, a move the major labels consider crucial to legitimizing file-sharing as a distribution system.

“It definitely would greatly reduce the amount of traffic,” said Chip Schutzman, head of online marketing at Sovereign Artists.

Sovereign, based in Santa Monica, Calif., has promoted and sold tracks by Heart using the online Weed file-sharing format, in which listeners can hear a song for free several times before having to buy it. Weed files are distributed to Web sites and across file-sharing networks.

John Beezer, president of Weed-creator Shared Media Licensing in Seattle, estimates that fewer than 100,000 tracks have been sold in the 18 months since the software went into use. Beezer said more than 7,000 artists have offered their songs through Weed, and the vast majority aren’t signed with recording labels.