Napster Shut Down!

In a major victory for the Recording Industry Association of America, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel today ordered that Napster, Inc. shut down it's music-swapping service by midnight this Friday. The decision was a shock to both Napster and the RIAA, which had predicted that a ruling would not come until next week.

"Napster wrote the software, it's up to them to write software that will remove from users the ability to copy copyrighted material," Patel said. "They created a monster - that's the consequence they face."

After a two hour hearing on Wednesday, Patel granted the preliminary injunction that the RIAA had been seeking for several months. The RIAA had prepared a convincing 30 minute presentation for the hearing today, outlining reasons why the injunction was needed. RIAA attorney Russell Frackman estimated that in the time between the next court date, 3.6 billion songs could be illegally downloaded with the aid of Napster.

The RIAA first filed the lawsuit against Napster on December 7th, 1999, seeking damages of $100,000 for every copyright infringement.

"We are pleased with the Court's decision," praised RIAA Senior Executive Vice President Cary Sherman in a press release issued shortly after the ruling. "This once again establishes that the rules of the road are the same on-line as they are off-line. This is an important win for artists."


There is no doubt in anyone's mind that today's decision will have resounding effects. While Sherman may believe that the decision will "pave the way for the future of on-line music," others are worried over the grave consequences it could leave for digital media in general. "[this is] the beginning of the end for intellectual property," says Coda Hale, proprietor of Independent Software and overall music junkie.

All court orders will be followed, according to Napster CEO Hank Barry. "If [an injunction] is what she orders us to do, we'll comply with whatever the judge wants," he said yesterday. However, David Boies, the lead attorney for Napster, made it clear that they intend to appeal immediately. Many legal experts predict the high profile case will end in a settlement, most likely requiring Napster to introduce thorough piracy countermeasures, if allowed to continue its service at all.

Napster's defense to this point been strongly reliant on the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which permits copying of music and video media for personal use. However, these arguments were shot down by Patel, who said that computers are not audio home recording devices. Another significant media law Napster pointed to was the 1984 "Betamax" decision, where the Supreme Court ruled that the sale of copying equipment (in that case, the newly invented "VCR") is not illegal if there are other non-infringing uses for the technology. Patel, in her decision, concluded that the non-infringing uses of Napster were minimal and that law did not apply.

Napster founder Shawn Fanning and CEO Hank Barry held a live webcast regarding the court's decision this evening. The webcast is available on napster.com.

Many people say that even if Napster is permanently shut down, the MP3 sharing revolution will continue as strong as ever. Marc Geiger, chairman of ARTISTdirect.com, predicts that music-swappers will just go elsewhere. "If Napster is injuncted, the kids will probably move farther underground to peer-to-peer applications," he said, indirectly referring to technologies such as Gnutella.

Andrew Bent, bassist for the band "Shaken not Stirred," agrees. "Let's see them shutdown Gnutella," he says.

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