Napster Faces Early Legal Setback

It's been a rough week for Napster.

Last Wednesday, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich dumped 60,000 pages of copyright violations at the San Mateo, California headquarters of the controversial music-swapping Web site, and on Friday, Napster lost the first round of court hearings in the copyright infringement lawsuit filed last December by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Napster had claimed that its Web site, which offers users a one-stop way to search for and download MP3s of their favorite songs, was "a mere conduit" between users and MP3 suppliers, and that it does not actually house MP3s. However, a U.S. district judge in San Francisco ruled that Napster's claim that its site was "a mere conduit" would not suffice in court and ruled that the company could be held liable in the case.

The RIAA released a statement early Monday morning on the ruling, declaring, "Napster just lost its last delaying tactic. The court's decision is the first step

in responding to those artists."

Some of "those artists" are Metallica, Dr. Dre, and others who have expressed discontent with the Web site. Metallica filed suit against Napster last month (see "Metallica Sets Legal Sights On Napster"), and Dre soon followed suit (see "Dr. Dre Sues Napster").

For their part, Napster responded to Friday's ruling by referring to the U.S. Supreme court's Betamax case which ruled that the public has the right to new technology. According to a Napster spokesperson, the case will likely go to trial.

Limp Bizkit, one of the few bands to have come out in favor of the tech company, will kick off its Napster-sponsored tour with Cypress Hill on July 4 in Chicago (see "UPDATE: Limp Bizkit Talks Free Concerts, Napster").

For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.