Napster Filtering Hits Snags As Users Try To Outwit System

By | March 12, 2001 at 12:00 AM

File-sharing service attempts to comply with court order, but downloaders concoct ways to avoid blocks.

Despite Napster’s promise to do everything in its power to comply with a court order to remove copyrighted songs from its system this week, users can still find – and download – plenty of tunes by Metallica and other artists. And those users are working just as hard, if not harder, to foil Napster’s efforts.

Napster won’t say how many songs it has already filtered, but searches for top-selling artists such as Joe, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears and Eminem all turned up dozens of matches early Friday evening (March 9). And while many songs from Metallica – who filed their own suit against Napster – appeared unavailable when searching with the proper spelling, it was still easy to find “Fade 2 Black” (for “Fade to Black”) or “Enter the Sandman” (for “Enter Sandman”).

The 60-employee Redwood City, California, firm said it began screening files Sunday night, working on lists of nearly 1 million files submitted by the Recording Industry Association of America, Metallica and Dr. Dre. When copyright owners – who could be artists, labels, songwriters or publishing companies – submit their request to have a file blocked, Napster said it will enter the information into a database. When a user logs on, Napster compares his or her available files to the database, and uses two computer filters to screen out songs that should be blocked.

The RIAA on Friday electronically sent Napster the names of 135,000 additional copyrighted works, which were compiled by the five major record labels. The list was arranged by artist, song title and album title. Napster has until Wednesday (March 14) to remove the files.

The first filter breaks the name of the file into individual words. If it finds an artist’s name, it compares the file name to the song title database. If it finds a match, the song is blocked from being shared, according to a statement issued by Napster.

If the song title and artist listed pass the first filter, it goes through a filename-based filter, which compares it to file names submitted by copyright owners. This is supposed to account for misspellings or minor variations in file names, and should theoretically block “Enter the Sandman.”

A spokesperson for Napster had no comment Thursday on whether or not both filters were working, or why alternate song titles might be slipping through. On Tuesday, Napster CEO Hank Barry issued a statement saying, in part, “we will take every step within the limits of our system to exclude their copyrighted material from being shared.”

One Internet analyst predicted it would take months for Napster to remove all the requested files. “Napster is only going to gradually lose its memory,” said Malcolm Maclachlan, electronic media analyst for Internet consulting firm IDC. “Everybody knew this was going to be a cat-and-mouse game, trying to figure out all the different file names while users come up with new ones.”

Maclachlan said he’s puzzled by Napster’s approach. “Why aren’t they blocking entire bands [instead of many individual file names]?” he said. “The whole process is very imperfect.”

Blocking everything from an artist would be imperfect as well, as rarely do all of an artist’s copyrights rest with one owner. Also, blocking the entire catalog of a band such as the Grateful Dead would also block live audience recordings the band has allowed fans to trade.

If the record labels and RIAA aren’t satisfied with Napster’s progress, they could file a motion for a tightened injunction, Maclachlan said. The RIAA had no comment Friday on the possibility of any further legal action.

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