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Friday, 2 June, 2000, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Madonna single 'leaked' online
Madonna
Not amused: Madonna has joined the row with Napster
Madonna has joined in the fight against the MP3 internet firm Napster after her new single was made available for downloading months before its scheduled release.

The pregnant superstar's record company has threatened legal action against Napster, whose program allows users to search other users' PCs for MP3 files to download via the internet, amid allegations that the song was "stolen".

The offending material is the title track from Madonna's new album Music, which is not due to come out until the autumn.

Madonna
Madonna's record company has threatened legal
The singer's manager, Caresse Norman, said: "The music was stolen and was not intended for release for several months.

"It is still a work in progress. Ultimately those sites that offered a download of Madonna's music are violating her rights as an artist."

Her record company Warner Bros also issued a statement warning of legal action unless the single was taken off Napster.

It read: "Any site that does not remove our copyrighted material runs the risk of civil and criminal prosecution.

Unauthorised

"We expect that the owners who have included this material on their site will comply immediately with our legitimate request that they cease permitting unauthorised downloads of this song."

Madonna is the biggest name to join the ongoing fight over the protection of music copyrights on the internet.

Metallica
Noisy protest: Metallica

Rock band Metallica is suing Napster for copyright infringement and racketeering, arguing that its software encourages users to freely trade their songs without permission.

Last month the group successfully blocked more than 300,000 fans from using the MP3 site after handing in their names to Napster's US headquarters.

Rap stars Dr Dre and Eminem are also unhappy with the company and Madonna's considerable presence is sure to boost the campaign.

Napster, which counts Public Enemy's Chuck D among its supporters, has said in the past that it is not doing anything illegal because it does not directly provide the copyrighted music.

Blame the labels

The case has prompted reaction from elsewhere in the internet music world.

Simon Bazalgette, of online webcaster Music Choice, said the big labels were already uncomfortable with the rapidly developing technology.

"Napster will only make them more uncomfortable and make them want to put their heads back in their shell," he told BBC News Online.

"If music has been stolen then the artists aren't getting paid and at the end of the day there is going to be less new music which doesn't help anyone."

But David Phillips, of digital download provider icrunch.com, blames the large music labels for ignoring the clear demand for digital music.

"The artists are at the short end of the stick but they should point the finger at the record labels because of their slowness in taking advantage of the digital medium," he said.

"We will see more of it. The demand is producing this piracy."

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See also:

11 May 00 | Entertainment
Metallica fans kicked off MP3 site
09 May 00 | Entertainment
Court blow for Napster
09 May 00 | Entertainment
The music industry's MP3 headache
27 Apr 00 | Entertainment
Rapper Dre sues MP3 site
25 Apr 00 | Entertainment
MP3 site takes the Bizkit
29 Feb 00 | Brit Awards
Music online: The story so far
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