Both parties request postponement

California District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel has postponed the start of the recording industry’s long-awaited copyright suit against file-sharing pioneer Napster until Feb. 17, a move that may help clear the way for a settlement between the longtime foes.

Both parties requested the postponement, though EMI Group arms Capitol and Virgin didn’t weigh in on the label side.

Napster, which was effectively shuttered in the summer by a court order requiring it to remove all copyrighted material from its network, has been working for the past year to develop a legal, subscription-based service to replace its wildly popular free operation.

Positive spin

The newly reformed Napster service launched in beta form last week, but has not yet negotiated licenses for content from any of the major labels. However, chief exec Konrad Hilbers said recently that he expects to hammer out deals with all five majors by the end of the first quarter.

“We are optimistic that the good-faith efforts that the parties have put into settlement and licensing discussions over the past several months will bring the litigation to a swift conclusion,” Hilbers said in a statement.

Napster, which boasted nearly 60 million users during its heyday early last year, was originally sued by the music industry in late 1999. The company’s free peer-to-peer network has since been emulated by dozens of new online startups, the most popular of which have rivaled Napster’s popularity. Accordingly, the record biz filed suit against three of the new companies — Kazaa, Music City and Grokster — in the fall.

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