Appeal Court says Napster can go live again

Reverses latest ban pending a ruling of its own

Napster was yesterday allowed back online.

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a ruling made last week by US District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel that the controversial song-sharing service must remain offline until it could guarantee that no song for which it lacked the right to allow to be shared across its network would slip past its filter technology.

Judge Patel's ruling was yesterday "stayed pending a further order" of the Court of Appeal. Essentially, the Court is allowing Napster back online while it ponders the sharing company's appeal against Judge Patel's order. That can't take place until both Napster and, on behalf of the music biz, the Recording Industry Ass. of America, have filed their cases. Napster's deadline to do so is 9 August.

At issue is whether Napster should be forced to provide a 100 per cent efficient song-blocking system. Judge Patel believes it should, and the Court of Appeal reiterated Napster's responsibility to prevent unauthorised song swapping. Napster, on the other hand, argues that no blocking technology can ever be perfect, and that it should be allowed to continue with its current system which, it claims, is more than 99 per cent efficient.

The Court of Appeal has a history of reversing Judge Patel's more stringent rulings, most notably her order, made last summer, that the service be shutdown completely until the RIAA's case against it be judged. Napster was down for a few days until the Court of Appeal permitted it to start its servers up again, provided it began blocking copyright material.

That may not actually happen this time. Napster has been offline for some time now while the company applies what it describes as database upgrades. At the time of Judge Patel's most recent ruling there was no sign that those fixes would be made any time soon.

Indeed, with so few users - compared to Napster's peak - not many music fans will worry about it one way or the other, doubly so now that the company has committed itself to dropping support for the MP3 digital audio format in favour of a proprietary format of its own devising. Napster is likely to stay offline until it can relaunch with a secure, copyright-protecting network, essentially allowing it to start its service again from scratch.

With most of its users gone and its rejection of MP3, we wonder whether the new Napster will ever be anything more than a shadow of its former self. ®

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