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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Copyright ruling due for Napster
A trial would determine how much damages Napster must pay
A trial would determine how much damages Napster must pay
An American judge will decide whether a full trial should determine if Napster infringed music copyright when it provided a free online song-swapping service.

The court hearing, to take place in San Francisco on Wednesday, is the latest round in the battle between Napster and music business organisation the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel could decide, through a summary judgement, whether Napster should be held liable for its users downloading songs without paying copyright royalties.

The copyright lawsuit was first filed in 1999
The copyright lawsuit was first filed in 1999
Or, she could order that the case must be heard at a full trial.

Napster is arguing that a trial should be held because there are so many facts that need to be taken into account.

But the RIAA wants Judge Patel to decide the issue herself so that the amount of damages to be paid can be addressed more quickly.

If that was the case, a trial would still be held - but only to determine how much Napster should pay record companies and what form a permanent injunction against the service should take.

'Not appropriate'

There are reports that the total damages could run into billions of dollars.

A $1bn (679m) settlement offer from Napster to the record companies was dismissed as "not nearly appropriate" in February.

While Napster did not store music files itself, it provided a directory of songs stored on music fans' hard drives around the world as well as the connection so that other fans could download them.

The record industry said Napster allowed 60 million fans to swap songs
The record industry said Napster allowed 60 million fans to swap songs
But the record industry said this allowed more than 60 million fans to swap songs for free, robbing them of billions in profits as a result.

Napster argues its users did not violate copyrights by trading songs for free because they shared files for non-commercial use.

The judge's decision will coincide with a publishing deal to allow major record companies to launch their own, paid-for download services.

In July, Judge Patel issued a temporary injunction ordering the service to shut down because it could not block access to all copyright material - but that decision was overturned by an appeals court.

Despite that, Napster has still not re-started its song-sharing service.

The forthcoming trial will also decide what form a permanent injunction will take.

Deals

Napster is planning to relaunch before the end of the year as a legal service.

It has already become affiliated with the company behind one major record label, Bertelsmann, who installed one of its employees as chief executive of Napster.

It has also struck a deal that means it will distribute music for MusicNet - an online download service planned by AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, EMI and RealNetworks.

The RIAA's lawsuit was first filed in December 1999 and is backed by AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, EMI, Vivendi Universal and Sony.

See also:

01 Oct 01 | New Media
Record labels 'fight' download plan
01 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Music's digital future
25 Sep 01 | Business
Napster set for comeback
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