Judge's ruling could shut down Napster

Online music distributor Napster said it will comply with Wednesday night's federal court ruling to halt the trading of copyrighted material by the weekend. But it also vowed to appeal the decision, which was handed down late Wednesday in San Francisco.

"We'll fight this in a variety of ways," said Napster CEO Hank Barry during a live webcast at www.napster.com following Wednesday's ruling by US District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel.

But attorneys for San Mateo, Calif.-based Napster also acknowledged that complying with the ruling could mean shutting down the free music service because the company has no way to easily distinguish which of its tens of thousands of music files are copyrighted.

Napster's software allows users to log on to its servers and make their personal MP3 collections available for download by other users. Since the company's launch late last year, an estimated 20 million people have used Napster software to download MP3 music files.

But now, Patel's ruling specifically enjoins Napster from "assisting or enabling or contributing to the copy or duplication of all copyrighted songs and musical compositions of which the plaintiffs hold rights."

Wednesday's ruling comes as a result of a lawsuit filed against Napster last December by record companies represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which charged the company with violating federal and state laws through "contributory and vicarious copyright infringement."

Following Wednesday night's ruling, Cary Sherman, RIAA's senior executive vice president and general counsel, said record companies were pleased with the decision.

"This once again establishes that the rules of the road are the same online as they are offline and sends a strong message to others that they cannot build a business based on others' copyrighted works without permission," Sherman said in a statement.

What the ruling doesn't change and cannot stop is the availability of free music on the Internet, according to Doug Milles, an executive at a rival online music company, New York-based EverAd Inc. EverAd's approach differs from Napster's in that it embeds banner ads in digitally-encoded music it licenses from the record labels, then distributes the music free of charge -- but with advertising -- at its Web site, www.playJ.com.

"Napster was saying early on in its mission statement things like 'We're going to take down the labels.' It's hard to backpedal off of that," Milles said.

"If they had kinder, gentler goals, they might have had a kinder [court] settlement today," he added.

EverAd, he said, "is not anti-free content. We're just for licensed content."

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