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Napster heads back to court

Napster was back in court this week to seek clarification on what type of identifying information copyright holders have to provide to get copyright-protected songs removed from its file-swapping service.

The peer-to-peer site has been offline for more than five months, beset with technical problems related to complying with the injunction issued by US District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel.

In a copyright infringement lawsuit lodged against Napster by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Judge Patel ruled that the file-swapping site had to remain closed until it filtered out 100% of copyright-protected music.

Napster has found it difficult to adhere to the ruling, although it said it has implemented filters that are successful at catching 99% of copyright-protected works.

To catch all the copyright music in its service, Napster claimed that it needed the names of specific files, not just the artist and song title lists the RIAA has provided. Napster said many of the files in its database incorrectly identify or misspell the names of artists and songs.

The RIAA argued that Napster should use its technology filtering capabilities to prevent copyright-protected works from being swapped in the first place.

Industry players are watching the case closely, as it could set the standard for how intellectual property is protected on the Internet. If specific file names have to be supplied by copyright holders, digital music services can operate legally as long as they remove the files upon notification.

However, if the burden of filtering out all the copyright protected music is left to the music services, they run the risk of over-purging their files to stay on the right side of the law.

Napster is eager to move beyond its legal woes, as it gets ready to relaunch its service under a subscription-based business model that adheres to copyright protection rules.

But while Napster's free-for-all file-swapping days are over, a handful of other free peer-to-peer swapping sites are waiting to see how the case develops and whether they can survive on a more vigilantly guarded Internet.

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