Napster inches toward subscription service

Two and a half weeks into Napster Inc.'s offline slumber, the embattled song-swapping service showed a small sign of life Wednesday when it announced that it was "getting close" to releasing the beta version of its new subscription service.

In an e-mail sent to potential beta testers, Napster said that it was working hard on the new software to make sure the final version meets "the highest technical standards."

The announcement comes one week after U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled that the company's service must remain shutdown until it can prove that its filters are 100 percent effective in preventing the trade of copyright music. The rogue music site initially suspended its service July 1 in order to update its databases to support a new filtering technology, and has been offline ever since.

The U.S.Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said Monday that Napster has until Aug. 9 to file a brief appealing its shutdown.

Although much debate has been waged over whether Napster will be able to recover enough users to successfully launch its subscription service, Napster's beta announcement Wednesday indicated that the company is still moving forward with its plans.

In the e-mail, Napster said that the subscription service will cost a small monthly fee, with over half of the proceeds going directly to the artists. The company concedes, however, that gaining a wide audience for the service will not be easy.

"We expect that Napster will start small and grow, just as it did when (Napster founder) Shawn (Fanning) released it 2 years ago," the e-mail reads.

While the site continues to fight highly publicized battles in the legal arena, behind the scenes employees are busy working on Napster's reincarnation. Napster announced Monday that it selected PlayMedia System Inc.'s AMP technology to secure the service's forthcoming subscription service.

While Napster's service and legal status hang in the balance, by all accounts, the site is doing the only thing it can do: forge ahead.

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Scarlet Pruitt

Computerworld

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