Politicians weigh in on Napster debate

In a letter to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, Hatch, the US Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and Utah Republican, said the briefs filed by the government agencies against the music file-sharing company should not be taken as the official position of members of Congress.

"Given the importance of the issues to be decided, I thought it important that the court be under no misapprehension that the brief necessarily expresses the views of the Congress in this matter," Hatch wrote in the letter dated September 14. "Indeed Congress has recently held hearings into the matter and is engaged in ongoing deliberations about its merits as the events unfold in the emerging online music and entertainment market. I believe these factual predicates should be borne in mind as the brief is considered."

On September 8, the US Copyright Office filed a friend-of-the-court brief, which was endorsed by the civil division of the DOJ and the US Patent and Trademark Office. As Hatch notes in his letter, the Copyright Office is an agency of the legislative branch housed in the Library of Congress. There are other references in the brief that suggest how Congress would react to the continued download possibilities of Napster.

In the brief, the Copyright Office suggests that Napster's service isn't protected by the US Home Recording Act, because users exchange music using personal computers and hard disks, and not using any of the devices specified in the Act. The act allows the public to make copies of music for personal use. By downloading music files to a personal computer, Napster's users are not creating "digital musical recordings" in the strict sense that was defined in the 1992 Act, Copyright Office officials also said.

In March, the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) filed a lawsuit against Napster, alleging that the company had infringed on RIAA members' copyrights. A US district court judge in July ruled that Napster had infringed on copyrights and ordered the music service to shut down. Napster filed an appeal against the judge's ruling and obtained a reprieve against closure of its site from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The court is due to review the case next month, with oral arguments expected to commence October 2.

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