Napster Drums Up Grass Roots Support

Digital music sharing service Napster Inc. is testing the loyalty of its 50 million members in the wake of a court ruling this week that could shut down the service.

A message to members on the front page and in e-mails to its newsletter subscribers asked them to “help us out in a number of ways by communicating with Congress and others.”

Visitors to also were urged to “make sure that you've subscribed to the Napster Newsletter so we can deliver updates [on the legal proceedings] directly to you.”

On a Web page headlined “Oppose the Effort to Shut Down Napster,” Napster provides would-be activists with a directory of legislators to contact. By entering their ZIP codes, users are sent to a page that lists their local and state representatives.

A text field appears where users can type their comments. Users need only to click the “send” button to take part in the political process.

Another link urges users to send e-mail notifications to five friends about contacting Congress.

The grass-roots push was a response to the unanimous ruling of three judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a preliminary injunction against Napster's free digital music file-sharing service is “not only warranted but required.”

Although the appeals court upheld most of the arguments in Federal District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel's original injunction last July, the three-judge panel said the responsibility for identifying music protected by copyright belonged to the recording industry, not Napster.

A new injunction will take effect once Patel alters the original order.

The Recording Industry Association of America filed copyright infringement charges against Napster last year. However, Napster's lawyers received a stay of Patel's original injunction until the appeals court's decision this week. The ruling means Napster could be shut down until the lawsuit itself comes to trial.

“There is no threat of immediate shutdown,” but the possibility of a shutdown looms, Napster attorney David Boies said.

“Under this decision Napster could be shut down — even before a trial on the merits” of the service, Napster CEO Hank Barry said. The decision was based on an incomplete collection of facts, he said. “We look forward to getting more facts into the record,” he said.

An injunction will most likely prohibit Napster from allowing its users to share copyrighted material, although the court placed the responsibility for identifying copyrighted material with the record labels that brought the infringement charges.

It is unclear whether Napster's technology is capable of telling the difference between copyrighted files and non-copyrighted files, so it is possible that the company would have to disable its servers.

Officials would not set a time limit on when the wording of a revised injunction would be completed.

Both Napster and the RIAA are loading up with political heavyweights as the court battle heats up.

Internet publication Inside reported Sunday that the RIAA recently appointed former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole as a strategic adviser to the legal and lobbying team working on the Napster case.

The move follows Napster's appointment of Manus Cooney, former Senate Judiciary Committee chief counsel and staff director, as its vice president for corporate and policy development.

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