RealTime IT News

Judge Patel Holds Up Napster Suit

Federal Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, who gained fame in the tech sector three years ago for presiding over the Napster trial, went to work on the most publicized case since the commercialization of the Internet Wednesday again put the recording industry's lawsuit against the file-swapping firm on hold.

According to published reports, Patel agreed to a one-month delay in the lawsuit brought by major record labels. The request was filed Jan. 17, with a court return date set for Feb. 17. If past judicial history is any indication, this may mean a settlement between the parties is near at hand.

Napster CEO Konrad Hilbers said present negotiations could lead to a settlement and allow Redwood City, Calif.-based Napster to launch the pay-for-play service it has been beta testing recently.

"We are optimistic that the good faith efforts that the parties have put into settlement and licensing discussions over the past several months will bring the litigation to a swift conclusion over the next several weeks, removing the last barrier to Napster's launch of our new membership service," Hilbers said in a public statement.

The RIAA, through which many of the Big 5's complaints about copyright infringement have been funneled, concurred. RIAA President and CEO Hilary Rosen said in a statement that the RIAA has acknowledged and approved of Napster's efforts to retool itself as a online music subscription service, which aims to compensate labels, artists and rights holders.

"Since relaunching a few weeks ago, we understand they have limited their repertoire to licensed music. Resolving the lawsuit may now be feasible," Rosen said.

In February 2001, Napster made a highly publicized $1 billion offer to settle the case if the major labels would license their catalogs to the firm, but the Big 5 rejected the offer.

A settlement would seem to pave the way for the digital music distribution sector's best-known brand, but it will certainly face tough competition with the likes of pressplay, MusicNet and Rhapsody, the former two of which are backed by the Big 5.