Another 'special master' appointed in Napster case

The nearly two-year-old battle between file sharing service Napster Inc. and the recording industry continued on Wednesday, and although the court was expected to rule on a summary judgement, the judge in the case said it would be "premature" to make a judgement. Instead, she asked for another expert to be appointed.

The RIAA on Aug. 7 asked the court for a summary judgment, saying in a court filing that the material facts in the case were "established, undisputed and overwhelming." Napster, the RIAA said, "set out to build, and was enormously successful in building, a business based on intentional and massive infringements of plaintiffs' copyrighted music."

Requests for summary judgements are based on statements and evidence submitted to the court before a case has come to trial. Judgements are granted when the judge determines there is no issue of material fact and the plaintiff is entitled to prevail based solely on the law.

Instead of ruling on the request for summary judgement, U.S. District Court judge Marilyn Hall Patel asked that both parties' attorneys together recommend a "special master" to assess the issues of music copyrights and ownership. Expenses for hiring the special master would be shared by Napster and the recording industry, she said.

However, if it is found that one party has been "hiding the ball" (withholding information that could have clarified the copyright issues) it is likely that party would take the brunt of the expense, she said. The parties were given between a week and ten days to submit to Patel either a recommended expert or a list of potential experts.

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Douglas F. Gray

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