Judge Mulls Pulling Napster's Plug


Thursday, April 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A federal judge in charge of Napster Inc.'s fate said she may put an end to the popular online song-swapping service because of its failure to do a better job of blocking copyright works.

``You created this monster, you fix it,'' U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said in a terse tone from the bench Tuesday.

``Maybe they should take another look at that,'' she said.

But Patel, who called Napster's efforts ``disgraceful,'' didn't act on her words. She said a court-appointed expert will review claims by the recording industry that Napster is failing to remove copyright material from its service used by some 70 million people.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported Wednesday that the company's biggest supporter in Germany was taking steps to distance itself from the service.

Bertelsmann AG, one of Napster's investors that dropped out of the recording industry's copyright infringement suit, had planned to help Napster switch to a subscription-based model. But the German media powerhouse is now talking with other media groups about forming wider alliances with Napster, the newspaper said.

But Bertelsmann spokesman Frank Sarfeld on Wednesday said the German company is still committed to Napster. ``We'll do whatever we can to make Napster successful,'' he told The Associated Press.

Recording Industry Association of America lawyer Carey Ramos said that of 5,000 songs the record labels on asked to be removed last month, 84 percent of them are still being downloaded free of charge via Napster.

``Whatever they're doing, it ain't working,'' he said.

Napster attorney Robert Silver told Patel removing the copyright material is easier said than done. Silver said ``all you need is one file to get through'' the song-swapping system's filters, which are designed to remove copyright material, and the protected songs will reappear on the site's search index.

Patel did not set a new hearing date, but ordered technology expert A.J. Nichols to study the issue and see if there is any existing technology available to help Napster abide by the court order to remove the songs.

In February, a federal appeals court in San Francisco said the judge's order for Napster to remove copyright works shifted too much of a burden on the Internet site. The appeals panel said the recording industry must first notify Napster of which works should be removed.

The reason the whole site has not been shut down is because doing so could violate the rights of artists on the site who have given Napster permission to use them.

Redwood City-based Napster has hired 15 more people to weed out unauthorized music, and has partnered with Gracenote, a company that tracks multiple spellings of popular song titles. Its new policy is to kick off users who continue trading music by modifying the file names of songs.

In total, Napster says it has excluded about 311,000 unique artist-song title pairs as well as 1.7 million file names corresponding to those artist-title pairs from its index. Usage has dropped considerably since it began blocking songs last month, Napster said.