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Labels Ask Judge To Make Napster Reverse Its Filtering Approach

RIAA lawyers say service should switch to a method in which permission would be sought in advance for every file.

Napster has “flagrantly and intentionally” failed to filter out copyrighted songs, music industry lawyers said Tuesday (March 27), asking a judge to force the file-sharing service to switch to a “filter-in” method in which only specifically authorized songs would be available.

In a “filter-in” system, Napster would have to start by banning everything, and then allow in songs that labels and artists tell them are approved for sharing – the opposite of the method Napster currently uses, where songs are allowed until someone asks for them to be filtered.

In a noncompliance report filed Tuesday night with District Judge Marilyn Patel, the music industry accuses Napster of deliberately choosing an archaic, easily defeated text-based filtering system. Napster has failed to filter out the 675,000 copyrighted works submitted by music labels and publishers, the report alleges.

“Napster seems to have adopted the most porous filter available,” Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said in a written statement. “It’s not working, it never will work, and Napster should be ordered to implement an effective filter or to change its filtering method.”

Napster CEO Hank Barry responded in a prepared statement of his own, asserting that Napster is aggressively complying with the court injunction that requires it to remove copyrighted material cited by labels and publishers.

Barry dismissed the RIAA’s introduction of the “filter-in” idea as an attempt to “change the subject” instead of working with Napster, and accused the recording industry of trying to delay the appointment of an objective technical expert in the case.

If Napster doesn’t implement the “filter-in” system, it should at least revamp its current system, music industry lawyers wrote, suggesting that Napster filter based on the digital content of music files rather than simply working from file names, which users provide.

Users can evade Napster’s current filtering system by slightly altering their searches with shortened or garbled versions of song titles or artist names, lawyers complained.

The noncompliance report specifically cites the continued availability on Napster of music by Metallica, who filed their own lawsuit against the service and were among the first acts Napster tried to screen. It also notes that while Napster promised to block Madonna’s Music, songs from the album are still available on the service. Both claims are accurate, judging from a search of Napster Tuesday night.

Barry said Napster is continually improving its filtering system, and he blamed the music industry for providing insufficient information on the file names corresponding to the songs they want blocked. Barry asserted that since Napster began filtering, the average total number of files available through the system at any one time has dropped by 57 percent, falling from 370 million to 160 million.

The next court hearing in the music industry’s copyright infringement suit against Napster, which prompted the injunction but has yet to go to trial, is set for April 10.

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