Napster apologized to its users on Friday for "a temporary but dramatic" reduction in the number of songs available through its system, blaming kinks in the implementation of new song-screening technology.
At the same time, Napster is forcing all of its users to switch to the latest version of its software, the first to use the new screening technology known as acoustic fingerprinting. Napster filters now examine music files' content, rather than their user-defined filenames.
"As of Wednesday, June 27, we're no longer supporting earlier versions of the Napster application," the company wrote Friday in an e-mail to users. Users who haven't yet upgraded to Napster 2.0 Beta 10.3 (or Napster version 1.0 Beta 2 for Macintosh users) are not allowed to log on to the system.
The company blamed the marked decrease in the number of songs available on efforts to "fine tune and verify" the acoustic fingerprinting technology, which it said "has never been implemented on such a scale before." The number of songs on Napster has already declined drastically since February, when a judge ordered the company to begin screening copyrighted songs cited by rights-holders.
A Napster spokesperson confirmed that the information in the e-mail is accurate but had no further comment.
Acoustic fingerprinting is also at the heart of Napster's plan to launch a new version of the service that will charge users a still-undetermined subscription fee and will in turn pay artists and labels for the use of their music. The company plans to use the technology to block some songs and gauge the use of others for royalty purposes.
On Tuesday, Napster announced that music by Slipknot, Moby, the Black Crowes and many other indie-label artists will be legally available on the subscription service, thanks to a deal with more than 150 indie labels in the U.K. and Europe (see "Slipknot, Moby, Tricky Music Soon Legal On Napster").
The new version of Napster, which CEO Hank Barry said will launch by the end of the summer, is also expected to include (for an additional fee) some major-label content via a deal with MusicNet, a joint venture involving EMI, Warner Music Group and BMG.
When it launches in late summer or early fall, MusicNet will also be available via America Online and through software from MusicNet's co-owner, RealNetworks (see "Labels Announce Joint Venture To License Music").
(For complete coverage of the Napster saga, check out MTV News' "Napster Files.")