The prodigal son returns

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Mar. 2 – Judge Patel issues another injunction, stating that the onus is on the record companies to identify exactly what songs are being stolen so the legitimate trade of open source songs could continue. A tall order seemingly, but the music industry complied in less than a week.

Mar. 5 – Napster begins to voluntarily block access to copyrighted songs, starting at first with the albums and songs on the Billboard charts. File swappers attempt to get around the blocks by using type-o’s, pig Latin, and other tricks. Orn in the S.A. by Ruce Pringstein anyone?

Mar. 27 – the RIAA files another brief claiming that Napster has not complied with the injunction.

Apr. 10 – Judge Patel calls Napster an out of control monster and recommends that it be shut down entirely for not complying with the junction.

By the end of May of 2001, traffic was down by more than 36 per cent, as users took their file trading tendencies elsewhere. Still, Napster had about 50 million users, swapping 1.6 billion files each month. At its peak in 2000, Napster had 60 million members.

The legal wrangling continued into the next year, and attempts to turn Napster into a pay service floundered as the company was unable to reach a deal to satisfy all the various music companies involved. On June 3, 2002, Napster filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

That should have been that for Napster, but the music industry can’t seem to leave the carcass alone.

On Feb. 25, it was announced that Napster will be resurrected under the wing of Roxio Inc., which manufactures CD-burning software. Talks have resumed with the five largest record labels in the music industry – Universal Music Group, Sony Music, Warner Music Group, Bertelsmann AG (BMG), and EMI – and plans are in the works for a new kind of Napster where all the songs are high quality, and customers pay a fee for each song that’s downloaded.

The previous attempt to turn Napster into a pay service failed when the company ran out of money before a user pay system could be put into place.

The question remains: will it work? So far Pressplay and MusicNet, two commercial Web sites that are selling songs online, are foundering, while the free services that stepped up to replace Napster, such as KaZaA and LimeWire, are more popular then ever.

Unless the legal actions against the free file sharing companies are successful and produce the legal precedent that was lacking in the Napster case to discourage other file sharing services, the public will pick the free service over the pay service every time.

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