Fans, industry await today's Napster appeal ruling

Will judicial triumvirate shut Napster down or not?

Napster and its opponents in the music industry are awaiting with bated breath the pronouncement of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, will state later today whether the MP3 sharing software company will face trial for alleged contributory copyright infringement.

The background to today's announcement is the Recording Industry Association of America's legal assault on Napster, which last July saw the US District Court of San Francisco shut the company down. Napster immediately appealed against that temporary injunction, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the software company could continue operations until its fate is decided at trial.

The RIAA subsequently moved to appeal against the appeal, a move that saw both sides - Napster's legal team now augmented by David Boies, he of Microsoft anti-trust trial fame - present cases to a triumvirate of Appeal Court judges. Presentations and counter-arguments were made, and the tribunal declared it would rule in due course.

Since then, Napster has formed an alliance with one of the RIAA's main members, German media giant Bertelsmann, and promised to come up with a subscription-based business model and to ensure that shared songs can be tracked for royalty payment and copyright protection purposes.

The result of that work is expected to go live in a June/July timeframe, according to recent pronouncements from Bertelsmann.

That may have helped Napster's case - while it doesn't acknowledge that the RIAA has a case, it is making an effort to address the organisation's concerns. That said, Bertelsmann's recording industry fellows are largely sceptical - at least in public - that its partnership with Napster will bear fruit.

Napster may also be hoping that its joint promotional deal with online music seller CDNow has helped to show that the availability of songs on its sharing service boosts CD sales. That deal only began last month, however, so it may be too soon to say whether sampling a song on Napster persuades music fans to buy the album. ®

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