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Napster Recruiting Users To Test Pay Service

Nearly eight months after it was first announced, Napster appears to be almost ready to launch its new pay-as-you-go, copyright-friendly service.

The company has begun recruiting users for a beta test of the new version at the Napster Web site, with testing expected to begin within a month, and the full-on launch of the new service set for sometime this summer.

A Napster spokesperson said Monday (May 14) that no precise launch dates have been set. The fate of the existing service is unclear, but the company has said in the past that there will always be a free component to Napster.

The new service – created in cooperation with Bertelsmann AG, the parent company of major label conglomerate BMG – is supposed to charge users a monthly fee for access to music. Napster is working on song-monitoring software, including “audio fingerprinting” technology, that will allow the service to track music traded through its system and pay appropriate royalties to labels and artists.

Thus far, BMG is the only major label that has agreed to participate in the new service, which could severely limit the amount of music available through it.

Meanwhile, Napster as we know it is continuing its efforts to comply with a court order requiring the service it to block copyrighted material cited by labels, artists and publishers.

After first tightening its filters to the point of screening out just about everything and then loosening them a bit, Napster now appears to be screening more than ever.

Less than 300 gigabytes of music was available on Napster throughout the day Monday – a sharp drop from the terabyte or more (1,000-plus gigabytes) of music available as recently as last week. Even songs meant to be officially available on the service through the company’s “discover” feature – such as techno-punks Plastic Eaters’ “Going on a Mission” – were nowhere to be found Monday afternoon.

In a message posted on the company’s Web site, Napster acknowledged, as they did last month, that their filters are “over-blocking.”

“As we continue to comply with the District Court’s injunction, some searches are not returning results, and many files are not being shared,” the company said. “Napster’s filters are constantly being changed to more effectively exclude music the copyright holders want blocked, and that frequently results in other music being excluded as well.”

But Napster urged music fans to keep using the service anyway.

“Our engineers are working hard on brand new song identification technologies that will enable us to pay artists and songwriters when we move to the new service this summer,” the message said. “Your ongoing use of the service helps in the development and testing of these technologies.”

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