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Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 04:44 GMT 05:44 UK
Breathing space for Napster
Shawn Fanning
Napster's founder Shawn Fanning can continue operating
A court in the United States has ruled that the controversial music swapping internet service Napster can continue running for at least a few more weeks.

The move followed a request filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to lift a stay on a ban on Napster, allowing the site to remain online.

The seal of the Recording Industry Association of America
The RIAA says it wants to reach a settlement
The hearing marked the latest stage in an ongoing clash between Napster, which has amassed about 30m users, and the RIAA representing some of the world's largest record labels.

The legal battle is being seen as the first major test of how copyright laws can be applied to the internet, and is expected to shape the future of how books, films and music are distributed.

More time

One legal expert said the 9th Circuit Court, sitting in San Francisco, appeared to want more time to consider the case.

Napster doesn't have any idea what's being transmitted

Judge Judy Schroeder
"The judges seemed to need more information from the recording industry and were more antagonistic to the RIAA. They don't really seem satisfied with the status quo," said copyright expert and lawyer Leonard Rubin.

In July, Napster was ordered to shut down by US District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel on grounds of "wholesale" copyright infringement.

However, the 9th Circuit court granted a last-minute stay, saying it needed more time to consider.

Key problems

On Monday, the court appeared to question some of Judge Patel's earlier conclusions.

One of the key problems with the case is that Napster does not actually give songs away for free; it lets users download software that allows them to exchange tracks in the compressed MP3 format among themselves.

It's not fair for Napster to say we are not trying

Hilary Rosen, RIAA
According to one research firm, about 1.4bn songs were downloaded using Napster during September.

Lawyers for the RIAA argue that Napster should be held accountable for this in the same way as CD bootleggers or other copyright pirates.

But in response, Judge Mary Schroeder seemed to dismiss the RIAA's claims, and said: "Napster doesn't have any idea what's being transmitted."

Napster argues that the RIAA is trying to keep a stranglehold on the music industry, and is ignoring Napster's legitimate uses.

Flat fee

Lawyers for Napster are hoping to use a 1984 court ruling which cleared video cassettes for domestic use despite fears over copyright infringement.

Lawyers for both sides are currently discussing several possible compromise solutions, which might see Napster impose a flat fee on users for each download.

"Napster has a lot of opportunity to make a business proposition that makes sense. It's not fair for Napster to say we are not trying," said CEO of the RIAA Hilary Rosen.

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19 Sep 00 | Business
Digital rights and wrongs
19 Aug 00 | Business
Napster says judge 'wrong'
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