Napster Ruling Scatters Pirates




LOS ANGELES -- A U.S. federal judge may have pulled the plug on the song-swapping party at Napster Inc., but partygoers simply moved on Thursday, as many of Napster's 22 million users quickly scattered to other piracy platforms that will be tougher for the record industry to stop.


Amid outpourings of anger and grief by Napster fans, who behaved as if one of their rock idols had died, web sites offering downloads of Gnutella, Napigator and other file-sharing tools were deluged by music fans looking for new sources of songs.


The scramble underscored that even though Wednesday's ruling was a big victory for the record industry f forcing Napster to stop allowing users to swap copyrighted works f the industry's fight to maintain their empire in the digital age is only beginning.


Legal experts and industry analysts said killing Napster gives the record industry a chance to push Internet music piracy back underground, where it had been confined before Napster came along to bring music downloading to the masses.


But many experts believe Wednesday's courtroom victory could also backfire on the music labels, because millions of fans who were engaging in piracy in the relatively plain view of Napster's service will now be doing the same thing in more dispersed protected havens.


The record industry itself is unlikely to lure many displaced Napster users. Even though every major label is planning to offer music downloads, their efforts consist of experiments in which the technology is clunky and the prices are considered obscene.


And because Gnutella and other swapping services are not operated by a company, or even centrally organized, the record industry now faces the prospect of going after dozens of Internet service providers, and millions of Internet users, if it hopes to thwart their growing piracy habit.


Even the industry's lead attorney in the Napster case acknowledged the difficulty of the new situation.


"One of the arguments we made to the court all along is that Napster is training people that piracy is acceptable," said Russell Frackman, attorney for the Recording Industry Association of America. If Napster's users simply move on to Gnutella and other services, he said, "people far smarter than I will have to figure out how copyright law can assert itself."


Wednesday's ruling by Judge Marilyn Patel in U.S. District Court in San Francisco gave Napster until midnight Friday to prevent users from swapping copyrighted songs. Napster executives said there is no practical way to accomplish that, and that the company will be forced to shut down.


Napster appealed the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday. The company's attorneys argued that Patel's ruling was "impermissibly broad" because it requires Napster "to block the sharing of all music" even though "a significant amount of music copying by Napster does not infringe any copyright."


Frackman said Napster is unlikely to win a reprieve.


The ruling is likely to be fatal to Napster, whose popularity was largely based on the ease with which it enabled users to download for free almost every popular song.


Within hours of the ruling, Napster fans began to lash out. Patel's court received "angry" calls throughout the day Thursday, according to a clerk who asked not to be identified.


Meanwhile, Napster founder Shawn Fanning was greeted Thursday morning by 2,600 e-mail messages bemoaning the ruling, Barry said.


More than 92,000 people downloaded the application Thursday, an 82 percent jump over Wednesday, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, one of the leading Internet market research companies.


Dozens of online petitions cropped up, and snagged the digital signature of tens of thousands of Napster fans. On the web site Slashdot, a news hub for the digerati, outraged consumers swore that they would boycott albums by artists signed onto major labels.


There are hundreds of sites that offer links to Gnutella software, which enables users to swap any kind of file, including music files. One of the most popular spots, gnutella.wego.com, was crushed under an avalanche of traffic.


The site typically handles a few hundred visitors a day, many of whom grab a copy of the program, said Gene Kan, a Gnutella developer and founder of Infrasearch. By midday Thursday, the number of downloads had already surpassed 30,000.


Other music-swapping sites were also being flooded with Napster orphans. Scour.net, based in Hollywood, reported that its traffic was up 80 percent before its site also collapsed under the load. Scour faces its own RIAA suit, and many legal experts believe its song-swapping service will be the next to fall.