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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 15:22 GMT
Napster's survival uncertain
Napster founder Shawn Fanning
Napster founder Shawn Fanning fighting for survival
Online music sharing service Napster is in court once again, in a final attempt to stave off closure.

A hearing at the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco started at 1000 local time (1800 GMT). But experts say that District Judge Marilyn Hall is unlikely to issue a ruling straight away.

An appeal court had asked the judge to redraft an injunction that would close down Napster, although it broadly agreed with Judge Hall's original ruling.

The new injunction is expected to prevent the popular online service from using copyrighted songs. This is estimated to represent about 70% of the content swapped using Napster's popular software.

The firm says it would effectively shut down its service.

Industry experts say it is difficult to predict when the judge will publish her decision.

Ms Patel issued an injunction last July, but two days later her ruling was postponed by a federal appeals court.

In February, a panel of three appeal judges ruled that an injunction was not only warranted, but required.

The appeals court asked Judge Patel to rewrite the order so that it allows Napster to survive if it keeps pirates off its network.

The company says it does not yet have the technology to do so.

Not ready

Napster lawyers say the online service may not have the ability to sift through the music files that are being exchanged by more than 50 million individual users.

The seal of the Recording Industry Association of America
The RIAA seems confident of a legal victory
Record companies allege that represents an infringement of copyright which is costing them billions of dollars in royalties.

In a last-ditch attempt to avert an injunction, last week Napster offered the five major record companies a $1bn deal to settle the case.

The proposal was rejected and the president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) seems confident of a victory in the San Francisco District court.

"I think it's pretty well known that Napster is not ready," said RIAA president Hilary Rosen.

"They are probably not ready to take all of our track names and deal with the system and I'm hoping the court won't have patience with that because this has been coming for almost a year."

New model

Hank Barry, Napster's chief executive, says the company is continuing work on a subscription-based service, which could be launched in a few months' time.

The company is working on the new model with media giant Bertelsmann, parent company of the BMG music label.

Bertelsmann is the only one of the five major record companies to have reached a deal with Napster and dropped the lawsuit against the online firm.

It has promised to make its catalogue available if Napster switches to a membership-only service.

Meanwhile, Napster has petitioned the appeals court to review its earlier decision, requesting a full hearing with the 25 US Court of Appeals judges present. They have to persuade at least half of the judges that the case warrants review.

A decision is not expected for several weeks, but analysts say Napster could ask for a stay on the injunction until the appeals request is decided.

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