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Napster Goes Dark For Upgrades

Napster’s song sharing service went dark Monday as the company continued to upgrade the network in preparation for advanced music-identification tools and the pending launch of a revamped, fee-based system.

“File transfers have been temporarily suspended while Napster upgrades the databases that support our new file identification technology. Keep checking this space for updates. Thanks for your support!” read a message on Napster’s home page Monday.

The Redwood City-based company has been scrambling to comply with a federal court-issued injunction to keep unauthorized music offline.

Napster representatives did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the status of the system changes.

The company has begun playing hardball lately with its users, who have long traded MP3 file versions of popular music with little regard to copyright issues. The latest version of the Napster application, a forced upgrade to the system that no longer allows the use of previous versions, contains new filtering technology to identify song files accurately.

The result has been a drastic drop in the number of songs shared and the number of users sharing them.

On June 27, 320,000 users shared an average of 1.5 songs each on Napster’s service, a dramatic drop from an average 1.57 millionusers sharing an average of 220 songs each at the peak of the service in February, according to researcher Webnoize.

“The new client is being used to test Napster’s fingerprinting technology for the company’s planned commercial service,” said Webnoize senior analyst Matt Bailey. “By further reducing the music available through the current service, Napster has provided another nail in the coffin of the service consumers originally loved.”

The new fee-based Napster has no specific launch date, but has been promised before summer’s end by German media giant Bertlesmann AG, Napster’s primary financial backer.

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