Copyright song sharing continues on Napster

By Matthew Fordahl AP Technology Writer
Monday March 05, 2001

SAN JOSE – Copyright music flowed freely on the Napster tune-swapping service Sunday afternoon as millions of users waited to see if it would fulfill a promise to block pirated songs beginning sometime this weekend. 

A search of the company’s servers showed all the top 10 songs listed on the Billboard Hot 100 list were available, including the No. 1 “Stutter” by Joe featuring Mystikal. Songs by longtime Napster foe Metallica also showed up in searches. 

The company will not comment on the plan until implementation is underway, said spokeswoman Karen DeMarco. She would not say when that would be Sunday. 

As happened previously when Napster has been threatened with closure, usage was soaring. Just one of dozens of servers the site uses showed more than 11,100 people sharing a total of 2.2 million files Sunday afternoon. 

“I am kind of watching it and trying to get my last efforts in — quickly,” said Thor Nelson, a user from St. Paul, Minn. 

During a federal court hearing Friday, Napster attorney David Boies said the service would deploy the screening system over the weekend. He did not provide a specific time. 

On its Web site, Napster said the process of screening out file names, song titles and artists won’t be easy. 

“It has in involved a significant investment of time and resources,” a statement said. “However, we believe it is superior to shutting the service down and disbanding the community during the transition period to the new membership-based service.” 

The software to be installed on Napster’s servers will block access to 1 million music files, Boies said. He and other Napster officials did not say whether that number represented distinct songs or spelling variations on a smaller list. 

Napster’s plan is a pre-emptive move against an injunction sought by the major record labels, which argue copyright holders and artists are not compensated for music traded on the service. Napster has argued that its computers do not store actual song files but rather direct people to other users’ hard drives where the music can be downloaded. 

In July, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel granted the industry’s request for a preliminary injunction and ordered Napster shut down for facilitating infringement. But last month the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the order pending its decision in the case. 

By Friday, all parties were back in court to discuss the case when Napster changed its tune and announced plans to start blocking songs. 

The change is significant, but the policy will work only if the company is diligent in policing its servers and blocking workarounds such Madonna songs where her name is spelled with one “N,” said Robert Schwartz, an attorney who specializes in copyright law. 

Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the proposal is a promising step. 

“We think that the screening technology has the potential to be effective, but we’ll see,” she said after Friday’s hearing. 

On Sunday, RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss said the group would have no comment immediately on Napster’s implementation of file blocking “or lack thereof.”