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News > Technology
Napster, RIAA use 'spin'
May 8, 2000: 8:03 p.m. ET

Both sides claim victory in early court ruling on music copyright case
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Just as music disks spin, so too do the lawyers for music business firms, as evidenced by verbal sparring on Monday from a record industry trade group and controversial software maker Napster Inc., bitter adversaries in a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Both parties claimed, albeit to different degrees, victory in Chief Judge Marilyn Patel's Friday ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that Napster was not protected from the suit's charges by a portion - section 512(a) - of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

graphicThat portion of the two-year-old law loosely says that a company that provides Internet services cannot be held responsible for what passes through those services.

Napster provides users with a hub of central computer servers to which they connect and share music recordings, many of which are illegally copied. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents all the big record conglomerates, sued Napster in December, seeking an injunction against the service and damages, amid claims thousands of songs have been pirated through Napster's program.

Because Napster does not directly provide the copyrighted music, it claims its service is legal.

On Monday RIAA called the San Francisco-court's decision a rejection of Napster's "claim that it is a 'mere conduit.'"

True enough, says Napster. But the San Mateo, Calif.-based company fired back, saying the court also denied the recording industry's request for a ruling that the entire DMCA was inapplicable to Napster.

graphic"The court also decided that there was a question of fact, which must be decided in future proceedings, as to whether other parts of the DMCA protect Napster," said Napster's attorney, Laurence Pulgram. "It left the issue of application of the DMCA open for further determinations. The upshot of the court's decision is to move the case ahead."

RIAA Chief Executive Officer Hilary Rosen saw the development somewhat differently.

"This hearing was Napster's attempt to escape responsibility for aiding and abetting wide scale piracy and -- not surprisingly -- they lost," said Rosen. "Napster just lost its last delaying tactic."

graphicBut she did agree with Napster's Pulgram on one fact - "Clearly the case will now move forward," she said.

The court has yet to rule on whether Napster is liable for its users private, non-commercial copying of MP3 music files. Last week, Napster said it may bar as many as 300,000 users who heavy metal rock band Metallica claims in a lawsuit have infringed its copyrights.

Despite the controversy, more and more people are flocking to Napster. The company's Web site scored a 20 percent bump in unique users in the week ending April 30, with totals rising to nearly 553,000 homes, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Back to top

  RELATED STORIES

Court rules against MP3.com - Apr. 28, 2000

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