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Litigious spin

Napster takes hits with trio of suits

It was the beginning of the end for Napster last week when a federal judge gave the music file-swapping service three days to block copyrighted songs identified by the record labels.

While U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel did narrow her previous order to comply with an appellate court directive, most of the burden of policing the service still falls on Napster.

Under the new procedure, the record labels must first notify Napster of the song title, artist’s name and the name of one or more Napster files containing the song. Both sides share the job of identifying variations in the file name. But Napster has the responsibility to search its files against lists of copyrighted recordings provided by the record companies.

The order was only the beginning of the bad news for Napster. On the same day, it was hit with a copyright infringement suit by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which seeks to prohibit Napster users from downloading and sharing recordings of live performances aired at last month’s Grammy Awards kudocast.

Then, on March 7, Emusic.com, which pays license fees to artists to sell their music online, also filed a copyright infringement suit against Napster. It accuses the file-sharer of lying in November when it insisted it could not remove E-Music’s material from the Napster service.

Napster received the tiniest glimmer of hope when Vivendi Universal topper Jean-Marie Messier said that Duet, a digital distribution service being developed by UMG and Sony Music, may license its songs to Napster if it can offer security and compensates rights holders.

Absent a reprieve from the 9th Circuit or a settlement, the next step is a trial before Patel this summer. With the issue of liability for copyright infringement resolved against Napster, the trial would focus on the amount of damages, a number likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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