Record Industry, Napster, Technical Expert Confer

By | April 14, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Lawyers from popular song-swap company Napster and the Recording Industry Association of America held a conference call on Friday with a court-appointed technical expert to resolve disputes over Napster’s compliance with an injunction barring the trading of copyrighted songs on the service.

Both sides declined to comment after the call, held on Friday afternoon, and sources familiar with the situation said that U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ordered the transcript of the call sealed.

Patel, lawyers from both sides and the expert, A.J. “Nick” Nichols, took part in the call, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Russell Frackman, attorney for the recording industry, told Reuters on Thursday, one day ahead of the conference call, that its purpose was to “set the protocol and parameters for the technical expert going forward.” Frackman, who was on the call on Friday, declined to comment about the discussion.

Nichols has a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford University and previously served as an adviser in a suit between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.

Patel said at a hearing on Tuesday in a court in San Francisco that she hoped the expert would help her understand the technical alternatives available to Napster as it attempts to block songs.

The copyright infringement suit has come be viewed as a landmark case on intellectual property in cyberspace and is expected to affect how books, movies and other entertainment are distributed online.

At the hearing on Tuesday, Patel said she believed Napster could be doing more and acting more quickly to filter copyrighted music.

Calling the company’s efforts to block unauthorized music on its service “disgraceful,” Patel left open the possibility of shuttering the service.

The company, based in Redwood City, California, has come under fire for its inability to block the trading of copyrighted songs completely, as ordered by a modified injunction issued by Patel on March 5.

Napster has argued it is complying as well as it can and blames the record labels, in part, saying they have not identified songs to be blocked in total compliance with the injunction.

Napster is also awaiting a decision on its request for a rehearing from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled in February that the company was infringing on copyrights and directed Patel to issue her injunction.

Music industry experts have said that many of the thousands of titles that record labels have asked Napster to block remain available on the system.

The big music companies, including Sony, Warner, Universal, EMI and Bertelsmann, first sued Napster in December 1999, calling it a haven for piracy.

Napster’s service, developed by a college dropout, has attracted more than 60 million users by enabling fans to swap without payment MP3 files, digital files created via a format that compresses the music on compact discs.

Several technical and music industry experts have called for Napster to filter its service by searching for songs with technology known as digital fingerprints to analyze the content of the MP3 files.

But Napster says it requires the file names to prioritize which material to block.

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