Napster, RIAA head back to court

Napster is due to face off against the recording industry again on Monday during a federal appeals court hearing over the extent to which Napster has to clean up its file-swapping service in order to comply with a court-ordered injunction.

Napster has been offline for over five months, beset with technical problems related to complying with the injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel. In a copyright infringement suit lodged against Napster by the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA), Patel ruled that the renegade file-swapping site had to remain shut down until it was successful at filtering out 100 percent of copyright-protected music.

So far, the peer-to-peer site has had difficulty adhering to the ruling, although it says it has implemented filters that are successful at catching 99 percent of copyright-protected works. The problem, says Napster, is that in order to catch all the copyright music in its service it needs the names of specific files, not just the artist and song title lists the RIAA has provided. Napster said that many of the files in its database incorrectly identify or misspell the names of artists and songs.

The two sides are scheduled to argue their points later this afternoon at a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing in Pasadena, California.

A source close to Napster said that Monday's hearing will focus on the details of the injunction, specifically on what type of identifying information copyright holders have to provide to get a copyright protected property removed from the service. Also on the table will be the issues of policing and the role of a court-appointed technical expert, the source said.

The case is being closely watched by industry players, as it could set the standard for how intellectual property is protected on the Net, and by whom. If specific file names have to be supplied by copyright holders, digital music services can operate legally as long as they remove the files upon notification. If, however, the burden of filtering out all the copyright protected music is left to the music services, they run the risk of over-purging their files in order to stay on the right side of the law.

Napster is eager to move beyond its legal woes as it gets ready to re-launch its service under a subscription-based business model that adheres to copyright protection rules. But while Napster's free-for-all file-swapping days are over, a handful of other free peer-to-peer swapping sites are waiting to see how the case shakes out and whether they can survive on a more vigilantly guarded Net.

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