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Napster to Alter Service to Block Some Songs

Napster Friday made the latest attempt to make good with the labels that accused it of enabling mass file-swapping by telling the U.S. District Court of Northern California that it would block users from accessing more than a million files.

While technology experts had said in the past that this is nearly impossible to do because of the massive volume of music files available on the outfit's service, Napster asserted that it would rig its software with content filters to weed out the vast list of songs over which content owners have raised a great ruckus.

In a press conference following the hearing Friday, Napster said the filtration process was a matter of inserting a step in the sequence between the file upload and the index viewing. No ruling on an injunction has been made as of yet.

In order to make Napster's proposition gel, it will need to work with the recording industry to figure out which files must be filtered. This would seem to be a daunting task, as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said it does not feel like waiting for the filtration process to take hold.

Napster attorney David Boies said that the screening process would block files by artist name and song title. The technology works by creating a new path for the users. Any software request would require it to go through a gate. If that artist or title name matches up with something in the new index, it won't go through. Boies stressed that Napster would be unable to actually go into a file and tinker with the content.

One patent infringement attorney Robert Schwartz, a partner at O'Melveny & Myers who has acted as lead counsel on copyright, motion picture and television studio litigation for the last 16 years, said the idea of the technology was impressive, but that it could do damage to Napster's credibility going forward.

"They had actually told the judge that blocking files was technically impossible," Schwartz told InternetNews.com. "And then they say months later that they can do it?"

"Because they're fessing up with the capability to screen files, they'd better take every artist and composition on the list and block them or it could come back to haunt them in future court dates."

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel had been expected to create a new injunction that would shut Napster's service down. Patel had attempted an injunction last July only to have it overturned days later by a federal appeals court.

Friday's court date was seen by many industry watchers as a grand opportunity for the record companies that are suing Napster en masse to specify exactly how the software firm infringed on their copyrighted content. A few stated cases may be all Judge Patel needs to shut down the service.

Still, Napster tried to compromise, albeit somewhat lamely, according to some experts. On Feb. 21, the firm aired a compensation plan for the labels and artists whose material it allowed to be spread near and far.

In the proposal, Napster pledged to yield $1 billion to the major labels, songwriters and independent labels and artists over the next five years: major labels would receive $150 million per year for a non-exclusive license, predicated on files transferred; $50 million per year will be set aside for independent labels and artists to be paid on the same files-shared basis.

Larry Iser, partner at Los Angeles-based Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger and Kinsella LLP and head of its music litigation and intellectual property practices, told InternetNews.com recently that he sees the proposed business model as more or less of a publicity stunt designed to divert attention from 9th Circuit ruling.

Such overtures, Iser feels, won't be met.

"I don't think the remaining major record companies will see Napster's offer as