The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is expected to hand down a decision Monday that could have drastic implications for Napster, the maverick music-swapping service.
Napster is in the midst of a lengthy legal battle against some of the largest record labels, represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The music powerhouses claim that Napster's service infringes on their copyrights by encouraging users to freely exchange their MP3 music files. Napster holds strong to its own position, claiming it merely provides the technological means for activities that are carried out by its users.
A three-judge panel heard arguments from both sides in October and, come Monday, will issue a decision that could either shut Napster down until the case has gone to trial, or allow Napster to continue its operations. Federal Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel already had ordered Napster to shut down pending the outcome of the trial. The appeals court overturned that decision in favor of holding the hearing last October to review the merits of each side's case.
The triumvirate of judges have a technology-friendly reputation, which has some legal experts doubting that the preliminary injunction against Napster will be reinstated. Others think the judges will send the matter back to Judge Patel.
"Most legal experts expect the decision to be handed back to the court for further review," said Malcolm Maclachlan, an Internet media analyst with International Data Corp (IDC).
Maclachlan said Napster has 57 million users, according to the most recent estimates. "I don't really buy that though because I am three of them," he quipped, meaning he has three registered user names.
If Napster is ordered to shut down until trial, the pressure will be on for the company to maintain its user base until it can begin profiting from a fee-based service that the company said recently it will launch in June.
If it can hold onto just one percent of its 57 million users and collect $5 from each of them with its fee-based service, the company would still be a big success, Maclachlan said.
The RIAA issued a brief statement on the matter Friday.
"We're confident that the Ninth Circuit understands the severity of our claim and will uphold the decision of the US Federal Court," Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the RIAA, said in the statement. "Monday's decision may finally clear the way for the legitimate online marketplace to thrive in an environment that encourages both creativity and a respect for copyright."
The decision is due to be posted at 11:00 Pacific Standard Time (19:00 GMT) on the link below.