Napster Struggles to Meet Filter Deadline

Free digital music file sharing service Napster continued scrambling to remove from its system a list of 135,000 copyrighted songs submitted to it by the Recording Industry Association of America. The deadline to do so passed Wednesday.

It remains unclear what songs were on the list and whether Napster met the deadline, which was established in a March 5 injunction ordering Napster to remove copyrighted songs within three business days of receiving lists from copyright holders. Many songs on the list were duplicates or did not follow the guidelines set in the injunction.

Napster contends it is in the clear because the RIAA did not comply with rules set in the injunction, which resulted from litigation between Napster and the association. The RIAA sued Napster 15 months ago, alleging mass copyright infringement.

If the court decides Napster missed the deadline, the service could be held in contempt of court.

“I think the whole scenario is unlikely to play out that way, but it is possible,” said intellectual property specialist Jeff Neuburger, a partner attorney at law firm Brown, Raysman, Millstein, Felder & Steiner, New York.

“The [RIAA] would have to make a motion to find them in contempt,” Neuburger said. “It would be up to the judge to determine whether or not they're in compliance.”

To try to meet the demands of the injunction, Napster called on music recognition service Gracenote, Berkeley, CA, to help with the process of filtering copyrighted songs from its system. Gracenote said that it maintains a database of about 12 million variations on song titles and artist names. The company catalogs misspelled titles – including 50 variations of pop band 'N Sync – which have proved troublesome in Napster's filtering efforts.

Napster so far has wiped more than 10.6 million copyrighted files from its system. This number represents variations in spelling and file names that correspond to 59,600 actual artist and song names.

Artist and title variations from Gracenote's database are expected to be integrated with Napster's filtering system this week.

“We've been exploring a partnership with Gracenote for months, and the ability to quickly enlist their support in our file-filtering efforts will greatly improve our effectiveness,” said Hank Barry, CEO of Napster, Redwood City, CA.

Napster has been experimenting with blocking files in recent weeks but reportedly had trouble blocking files with misspellings in the title or artist name.

To make matters worse for Napster, file sharing firm Aimster and Canadian technology firm PulseNewMedia developed software programs that use pig Latin to alter the names of MP3 files. With the software, MP3 files containing music from heavy metal band Metallica would be known as “Etallicam.” Pulse last week reported its software has been downloaded 20,000 times, while Aimster said Wednesday it halted downloads of the pig Latin naming system.

“At the request of Napster, Aimster has removed the Pig Encoder Software from public distribution through its Web site,” Aimster chief executive officer Johnny Deep said.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act criminalizes reverse-encryption schemes, so Napster would need to remove pig Latin titles one by one in order to stay within the law. Because Gracenote is developing a custom application for Napster, company officials said it is too early to determine whether it will detect pig Latin file names.

Internet research firm Webnoize reported that the filtering of free files has hurt Napster's popularity. Napster users have downloaded 50 percent fewer files, while the number of music files shared per user has dropped significantly, the company said.

As Napster begins blocking copyrighted files from its system, this number is expected to fall further. Webnoize estimated users on average were sharing 172 files each before Napster strengthened its filter Wednesday night. After the filter was strengthened, this number fell to 71.

Napster and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are expected to be a priority April 3 when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the future of digital media.

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