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Record Giants Want Summary Judgement for Napster

Federal Judge Marilyn Hall Patel Wednesday deferred a decision on a request by recording giants for a summary judgement in their long-running copyright infringement suit against song-swap service Napster.

“She took it under consideration and Napster threw a lot of issues on the wall. Patel was interested in a few of them, but at the end of the day, there is no question that liability is going to be found and damages will be assessed,” said Matt Oppenheim, senior vice president of legal affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents music companies.

Issues which came under discussion were ownership of copyrights, alleged misuse of coyprights by MusicNet, a joint venture between RealNetworks Inc of several big labels and the issue of whether Napster’s alleged misconduct has been willful under the copyright law.

A summary judgement against Napster on the issue of liability would in essence leave for trial only the amount of damages and the nature of an injunction, lawyers have said.

Napster lawyers opposed the request and argued for a full trial to determine its liability. The company faces potentially billions of dollars in damages due to the lawsuit. “Judge Patel took seriously Napster’s argument that summary judgement is premature when the record labels haven’t provided any conclusive evidence that they actually own the works that they claim were infringed and, moreover, when there is uncontradicted and unrebutted evidence in the record that the labels have engaged in classic anti-competitive behavior,” said Napster attorney Jonathan Schwartz.

Napster’s once-phenomenally popular music swapping service has been idle since July as a result of the recording industry’s legal actions, which led U.S. District Court Judge Patel to issue a preliminary injunction against Napster.

Sources close to Napster, which is trying to transform itself into a secure, membership-charging service, said they do not believe a summary judgement is appropriate. They want the case to be taken to trial because there are so many factual issues that need to be addressed.

The big labels, including AOL Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Music, EMI Group Plc and Bertelsmann AG’s BMG, Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music and Sony Music, first sued Napster in December 1999.

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