Judge in Napster Hearing Finds in Favor of Music Firms

The judge has found in favor of the plaintiffs in a hearing against MP3 music sharing company Napster Inc., but only in terms of the recognition of the music companies' copyrights. The music companies are members of industry body the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

In a hearing here Wednesday afternoon, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel for the Northern District of California, forbade the exchange or use of the music companies' copyrighted material by Napster or Napster users. She listed such illegal uses via Napster's music distribution Web site as using MP3 files, assisting in people using the files and copying the files that the plaintiffs hold rights to.

"Napster is enjoined from doing the acts I've just described," Judge Patel said.

By midnight Friday Pacific Time, Napster will have to stop putting up the music companies' copyrighted material on its Web site, she ruled. Throughout the hearing, however, Napster insisted that the identification of material in relation to a specific copyright holder was impossible. In case of possible compensation due to Napster, Patel ordered the music companies to pay a US$5 million bond.

The judge said the number of MP3 files that have already been downloaded from Napster's site in addition to the number of current Napster users presented a significant enough threat of irreparable harm to the music companies. She added that she felt that it was time for an injunction at this point.

Patel cited as evidence for her reasoning estimates that as much as 87 percent of the material on Napster's site may be copyrighted as well as the music distribution company's own predictions that it might have as many as 70 million users by the end of 2000.

In its defense earlier Wednesday, Napster suggested that the technology companies responsible for creating MP3 in the first place, should really be taken to task. Napster had merely taken advantage of the available technology, the company's lawyers said. "It's hard sometimes to make a neat fit," Patel said in relation to Napster's line of defense.

However, the judge said that Napster hadn't seemed to try as hard as it could to identify people pirating material. More damning in her opinion was the company's provision of software and a search engine as a means to enable music distribution, she added.

"It's kind of like becoming an orphan by your own hand" and then asking the court for help," Patel said. She drew attention to Napster memos that showed the company was keen to make money off of its music distribution site from the start of its operations.

Napster, based in San Mateo, California, can be reached at +1-650-373-3800 or http://www.napster.com/. RIAA, in Washington, D.C., can be reached at +1-202-775-0101 or at http://www.riaa.com/.

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