The record industry, firing the latest volley in its attempt to stamp out rampant piracy on Napster, identified 135,000 songs late Friday that it says are being illegally traded over the popular song-swapping service.
Under a procedure laid out by a federal judge in San Francisco, Napster has until Wednesday to remove the songs from a central index that helps subscribers locate and download songs on other users' computers. The list of songs come from BMG, Warner Brothers, EMI, Universal and Sony, the so-called Big Five record labels which first sued Napster for copyright infringement in December 1999.
For the first time in its controversial two-year history, Napster began blocking a limited number of song titles last Sunday. Almost immediately, however, users found ways to work around the filter by using minor variations in a song's file name. The techniques included substituting numerals for same-sounding words – for instance, the title of heavy metal act Metallica's "To Live is to Die" was renamed "2 Live is 2 Die."
The work-arounds illustrate just how difficult it is for Napster, a decentralized, peer-to-peer network, to appease the record industry, which during the past nine months has scored important wins in its legal offensive against Napster.
Napster also has warned that screening out certain songs will degrade its service. A Napster spokeswoman confirmed that the Redwood City, California-based start-up has received the list but would not speculate on what effect the added burden would have on the performance of song-sharing network.
The Recording Industry Association of America, the body that represents the music industry, provided the list four days after US District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued a preliminary injunction spelling out who was responsible for removing copyrighted music from the Napster indexes.
The injunction said copyright holders must provide Napster with song titles, artist names and the names of computer files under which a song is traded, along with certification of copyright ownership. Napster then has three business days to purge the files from its system. Napster is also responsible for removing file names with minor spelling variations when it is "reasonable" to assume they denote copyrighted songs.
Napster so far has been successful in making peace with only one of the major labels. A ground-breaking pact in October with BMG parent Bertelsmann gave Napster $60 million to build anti-piracy measures into its software. More importantly, it served as a model that Napster has desperately hoped other major labels would follow. Having suffered a crushing series of blows in court, Napster's only real chance of survival is striking deals with the rest of the industry. So far, none of the other labels has appeared interested, though Universal recently has indicated that it might consider licensing music to Napster if the company can assure songs won't be illegally traded.