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Napster Software Will ID Sound

The latest version of Napster’s file-swapping software includes technology that can identify songs by sound, not just their names, the company said Monday.

In a posting on its Web site, the company said so-called sound fingerprinting will help the company comply with a federal judge’s order to block the free exchange of copyrighted songs and to add yet-to-be-announced features.

Since March, Napster has been excluding copyright songs based on file names, which can vary substantially from user to user. For example, one user may offer the song, “Yesterday,” while another may misspell it “Yesterdy” to make it difficult to block.

Last month, Napster announced it was licensing fingerprinting technology developed by Virginia-based Relatable LLC to identify songs by the way they sound, regardless of audio format or common distortions.

“As the technology available for the identification and tracking of music files has evolved extremely rapidly over the past few months, Napster has quickly embraced it in order to better protect copyright holders and improve our users’ experience,” according to the message on the Napster Web site.

A Napster spokeswoman said the latest software release is only a first step in deploying the technology. The company has not said when it will be fully implemented.

In response to suits by the major record labels, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in March ordered Napster to block copyrighted songs from being freely exchanged. During a hearing last month on the effectiveness of filename filters, she called Napster’s effort “disgraceful.”

The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the major labels, said it was heartened by the latest step.

“We’re pleased that Napster is announcing more and more steps toward compliance with the injunction,” said RIAA spokesman Doug Curry. “The focus, however, should remain on a fully effective filtering mechanism, not on each step toward its creation.”

Last week, the Internet research firm Webnoize reported that Napster use has plunged 41 percent since the online company added song-screening technology that blocks songs by name.

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