Napster gets court's marching orders

Service must start blocking music files pronto, judge rules, but record companies must provide lists of copyrighted songs.

Published March 6, 2001 6:46PM (EST)

Napster had already started blocking copyrighted song files Sunday night, but a federal injunction handed down Wednesday formalized the ground rules, along lines laid out in last month's federal appeals court ruling.

The ruling -- written by Marilyn Hall Patel, the San Francisco District Court judge who already enjoined Napster once, before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered her to revise it -- lays out a simple process that puts the onus for policing the swapping service on both Napster and the record labels. That marks a small victory for Napster, since the music companies have maintained that Napster alone should be responsible for policing its service.

First, the labels must provide notice: a song's title, artist and the file name containing a copyrighted song, along with proof that the label owns rights to it. Napster then has three business days to remove the file from its index, "thereby preventing access to the files," the order says.

Napster must also put blocks in place for songs that are not yet released but that the record labels identify as titles that show "a substantial likelihood of infringement on the Napster system," the order states. "To order otherwise would allow users a free ride for the length of time it would take plaintiffs to identify a specific infringing file and Napster to screen the work."

If Napster argues that it's not possible to comply with the order, Patel writes that it can call for a hearing. But regardless, the injunction -- a preliminary ruling -- will stand while the formal lawsuit proceeds to trial, which could drag on for months. Napster has five business days to show the court how it plans to comply with the ruling.

The order does not address how Napster or the record companies intend to deal with the widely predicted phenomenon of users renaming files to get around the new blocking techniques. (Slashdot reports that inventive users of the Aimster instant messaging tool are already cataloging their music files via pig Latin.)

Whatever happens in court and in the executive suites of the music industry in coming weeks, the Net is likely to become a very interesting place for the creative mangling of song titles.

By Damien Cave

Damien Cave is an associate editor at Rolling Stone and a contributing writer at Salon.

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