RealTime IT News

Another Nail In Napster's Coffin?

Frustrated by what they say is a clear widespread disregard for copyright law; recording industry executives are drawing a line in the sand against song-swapping service Napster.

A new injunction issued late Monday night by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel does not shut down Napster entirely but essentially gives Napster very little time to block copyrighted songs as soon as the record labels give Napster a list of song titles, artists and files that they want blocked.

Representatives for the San Mateo-based Napster were unavailable for comment. However, in a statement the company says it will "take every step within the limits of our system to exclude their copyrighted material from being shared."

The injunction reads: "Once Napster 'receives reasonable knowledge' from any source identified of specific infringing files containing copyrighted sound recordings, Napster shall, within three business days, prevent such files from being included in the Napster index, (thereby preventing access to the files corresponding to such names through the Napster system)."

Executives for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are pleased with the judge's ruling.

"We are gratified the District Court acted so promptly in issuing its injunction requiring Napster to remove infringing works from its system," says RIAA CEO Hilary Rosen. "We intend to provide the notifications prescribed by the Court expeditiously, and look forward to the end of Napster's infringing activity."

Five of the largest record labels - Vivendi Universal's Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music (NYSE: AOL), EMI Group and Bertelsmann AG BMG - first sued Napster for copyright infringement in December 1999. There are four separate suits in all. On Friday in San Francisco, Judge Patel conducted hearings into how the injunction against Napster should be framed.

As a result of Friday's hearing, Napster promised to install its own filtering software and block nearly one million copyrighted songs. While Napster fans have been able to circumvent the filter and download banned songs for most of the weekend, some users say the mad scramble to get songs made it more difficult than usual.

"It wasn't the filter that was causing the problem, it was all the people using the system that was making it difficult," says one user, who asked to remain anonymous. "I was only able to download four songs because there were so many drop offs and timeouts."

What's In A Name?

Because the injunctions and legal actions are based on the song title or artist's name, one way to get around the legal issues, say those in the online music industry, is to change the file name on the server. For example, someone could change the name of The Beatles' tune "Let it Be" to "Left My Bean."

"Anyone that wants to, can change the file name to some thing in pig-latin," says Oakland-based Uplister VP Jeremy Silver. "The ruling hits a very gray area and lets Napster extend its company life and gives users some leeway.

Claiming it just wants to protect the privacy of Napster users, AIMster this week released its Pig Encoder, a free tool that scrambles MP3 file names.

After the list of songs is submitted to Napster, the company and the record labels will have the dogged task of searching through the database to identify infringed songs.

Since the files are on the users computers and not on any Napster server, some say it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack.