Sifting out songs

Napster cuts file count by half with filters

The number of files that users make available for swapping on Napster has shrunk by more than half, according to one estimate, since the embattled Netco implemented technology to filter out songs that infringe on major-label copyrights Wednesday night.

Napster users are now offering an average of 71 music files from their hard drives for sharing on the service, according to digital entertainment research firm Webnoize. That’s down from a 172-per-user average before the company took its servers down to install the filters at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

In absolute numbers, the decline seems even more drastic: Webnoize counts a total of roughly 110 million song files currently available on the Napster system, a 60% decline from the 275 million or so files on offer before the filtering began.

Napster’s filtering efforts come in the wake of an injunction issued March 6 by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, who directed the company to block access to all music files verified to be infringing on the copyrights of record labels, publishers and other rights holders.

But the week before the injunction was handed down, Napster announced that it had developed a system on its own to filter out up to a million infringing files, and would start putting it into effect as soon as possible.

Company has since set to work proving its good faith to the industry by blocking many of the tracks on a 135,000-song list provided by the Recording Industry Assn. of America. But industry watchers see many bumps along the road to compliance as the two parties clash on which files actually meet the requirements set forth in Patel’s injunction.

“They do seem to be trying to show the record industry that the Napster system can be policed,” said Webnoize analyst Matt Bailey. “They’re trying to improve the filter so that it will get harder to foil it over time.”

Courting the labels

If Napster isn’t careful, however, it could become a victim of its own efficiency. Even as it blocks the copyright offending files from its system, the company is attempting to sweet-talk the labels into joining a next-generation, membership-based version of the service — so far with little success.

If the company goes too long without cutting a deal, it could lose its most convincing selling point: its gargantuan 60 million-strong user base.

So far, according to Webnoize data, that base has remained relatively constant, with around a million and a half users online at any given time since before the injunction went into effect.

Once users find that they can swap only a fraction of the files that were previously available, however, “they’ve pretty much got a matter of days before people start leaving the system in large numbers,” said Bailey.

Napster representatives were not available for comment late Thursday.

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