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Trial date set for Napster

San Francisco-based 9th Circuit to hear landmark case Oct. 2

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court Tuesday set the week of Oct. 2 for opening arguments in the trial pitting music song-swap company Napster Inc. against some of the giants of the recording industry.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals set the October date without comment and did not say which justices would sit on the three-member panel hearing the case, a landmark battle over copyright protection in cyberspace that could eventually touch books, movies and television.

The same court last month granted Napster a last-minute reprieve by staying a judge’s order that would have immediately shut down the service, which boasts more than 20 million users.

The lawsuit lodged against Napster by the Recording Industry Assn. of America contends that the server — which lets fans swap songs for free by trading MP3 files — is really just a high-tech shortcut to music piracy.

Powerful foes

In the suit, Napster faces a collection of the most powerful recording companies in the country, including Seagram Co. Ltd.’s Universal Music, Bertelsmann AG’s BMG, Sony Corp.’s Sony Music and Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Music Group and EMI.

In recent “friends of the court” briefs, however, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which represents technology giants like AT&T Corp., Oracle Corp. and Yahoo Inc., said the courts need to reinterpret and revise some of the “overprotective” models for intellectual property protection.

Similar briefs filed by several other coalitions expressed concerns the ruling could limit users’ rights to enjoy music and media and could impose copyright policing responsibilities on Internet service providers.

Decision overturned

Napster on Aug. 18 asked the appeals court to permanently overturn U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel’s July 26 order that Napster prevent users from trading copyrighted songs — an order that would have effectively shut the service down.

Officials at Napster have said they hope to settle the legal battle out of court, saying the two sides should work together to figure out a business model that combines music distribution technology with copyright protection. The recording industry has been less enthusiastic, however, saying file-sharing programs like Napster represent a clear threat to their operation and profitability.

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