Napster Ruling Expected Today

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The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is expected today to hand down its decision on whether digital music file sharing service Napster will be allowed to operate during litigation with the Recording Industry Association of America.

According to a statement on the court's home page on Friday, the decision would be posted to the site by 11 a.m. PST.

Napster initially was ordered to terminate its service when the RIAA, representing five major record labels, filed copyright infringement charges against it last year, but its lawyers were able to delay a final decision on the injunction until today.

A trial date has not been set and is not expected for several months.

It is unclear what would happen if the court sides with the recording industry.

Napster provides the software that allows users to share MP3 files. It is not clear whether the company has the ability to terminate usage of the service. Even if Napster is ordered to shut down, it is possible that the more than 50 million people who have already downloaded the service would still be able to use the software. Calls to Napster officials were not returned last week.

Even if Napster MP3 file transfer can be stopped, there are dozens of other peer-to-peer sharing platforms that copyright scofflaws can use. Some, such as Gnutella, give users the ability to share virtually any kind of digital file.

The controversial case has drawn attention because it is the first major test of copyright laws in the new Internet economy. Some experts expect the case to end in a series of settlements. One record company, Bertelsmann Music Group, has already settled with Napster and is setting up a subscription service with the site.

Today's ruling puts Bertelsmann in an odd position as both a plaintiff in the RIAA lawsuit and a Napster partner looking to develop a subscription service. The company has said it would withdraw its portion of the lawsuit as soon as the subscription service goes live. BMG officials could not be reached for comment.

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