RealTime IT News

Napster Never Said it Would Be Easy

Under the watchful eye of the press and recording industry, Napster this week said it has blocked 115,000 music files sweeping some 26,000 copyrighted songs per a court order issued last week.

As part of an injunction ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, Napster's progress would seem to be on the short side given the fact that it is supposed to block a total of 135,000 songs within three business days of being handed song lists by the Big 5 -- BMG, Warner, EMI, Universal and Sony. That due date is slated for Wednesday.

But now it seems it is the music file-swapping firm's turn to cry unfair, as its Chief Executive Officer Hank Barry said this week that members of the Big 5, Sony in particular, have not fully complied with the order. Barry told reporters that Sony Music submitted about 95,000 songs altogether and that a little less than half of those songs listed artist and titles but no file names. More than 5,000 songs on the list submitted Friday were duplicates, too.

Barry said that while most of the names were in conjunction, 50 percent of Sony's list did not have file names. This would be a violation of the injunction. That injunction, issued March 5, surprised some people because it put more of an onus on the record labels to work with Napster to figure out which songs would be blocked. The Big 5 had hoped for a broader ruling that would put the burden more squarely on the file-swapping outfit's shoulders.

When reached for comment, a Sony music spokesperson referred questions to the Recording Industry Association of America, which is acting as the unofficial middleman between Napster and the Big 5.

The RIAA did not respond to a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Napster seems to be working feverishly to comply with the injunction. While Barry said catching all song title variants would be an impossible task to complete over a three-day period, he said his firm has hashed out a deal with Gracenote Inc. (formerly CDDB), a firm that possesses an extensive list of music song titles. Gracenote's database houses about 140,000 variations on 250,000 different artist names and approximately three million variations on more than nine million different artist/song title pairs.

Why is this important?

Before Napster even blocked a single song, Web pundits, analysts and others steeped in peer-to-peer file-sharing, have lit up message boards in the past two weeks, claiming that users can get around Napster's content filtration process by finagling with the song titles. For instance, take Carly Simon's "For Your Eyes Only." Whoever wanted to post that song could rephrase the song as "For Your I's Only." Webnoize's Ric Dube called it Pig Latin.

But Gracenote's list contains many such variants, including Metallica's "Fade To Black," which can be listed as "Fade 2 Black" to account for those file swappers who want to use numerals to dodge the filter. Barry said Gracenote's list would work as a supplement to the Napster list.

"We've been exploring a partnership with Gracenote for months and the ability to quickly enlist their support in our file-filtering efforts will greatly improve our effectiveness," Barry said.

Artist/title variations from Gracenote will be integrated into Napster's file-filtering system within the next week.

So, while Wednesday seemed like a good deadline to impose at the time, Napster and the recording industry will have to work harder together to weed out copyrighted song files. And it is in an ongoing process; additions to the Big 5's list will be sent out over the next few weeks.

Despite the litigious wrangling, Napster remained as popular as ever in February. According to statistics released by Web surfing tracker Jupiter Media Metrix Tuesday, Napster was the 13th most visited Web site with 16.9 million unique visitors in February. Though a popular site for more than a year,