Judge Postpones Decision In Napster Suit

Recording Industry Association of America claims MP3-trading program infringes on copyrights.

SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. District Court judge on Monday postponed a ruling on whether to dismiss the Recording Industry Association of America's lawsuit against the makers of MP3-trading program Napster.

Judge Marilyn Patel said she would decide later this week. A&M Records, in the name of the RIAA, is suing Napster Inc. — a software company whose program allows users to trade MP3s over the Internet — for infringement on numerous copyrights.

Napster attempted to have the RIAA's case thrown out, citing a law that limits Internet service providers from copyright infringement liability for simply transmitting information over the Internet.

Napster's lawyers hope clauses in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act will release the company from a legal responsibility to reimburse artists and record companies for music traded by Napster users.

Lawrence Pulgrum, the Napster attorney, argued that the company is an Internet service provider — not a content provider — and is protected by the act, because Napster serves only as a portal through which its users may freely trade files among themselves.

But Patel questioned Napster's claim that the program's chief intended purpose is to allow unknown, unsigned bands to freely distribute their music. She said she downloaded the program and that most of the files she saw were recognizable, apparently copyrighted, material.

The RIAA argued that the majority of Napster's business is based on illegal trade of downloadable music files — files for which various record companies own the copyrights — and that Napster's sole function is to allow users to obtain, for free, music that fans would otherwise purchase from record companies.

RIAA lawyer Russell Frackman said Napster had not taken significant steps to prevent copyright infringement.

Frackman said Napster had a list of 800,000 recordings, 90 percent of which were determined, in a representative sample, to be copyrighted by RIAA record companies.

"[Napster users] are getting a free product that is identical to our clients' product," Frackman said.

But Napster's lawyer said the company had taken steps to inform users that copyright infringement would not be tolerated, a necessary step under the 1998 act.

"We're going to keep defending what we think is a legitimate system for users to share information," Pulgrum said after the hearing. "Users have a responsibility that goes with the right. They have the right to use the Internet, the right to share information, they have the responsibility to make sure they don't infringe. We tell them that, we mean it."

The program's terms of use instruct, "Users are responsible for complying with all applicable federal and state laws applicable to such content, including copyright laws. As a condition to your use of the Napster service and browser you agree that you will not: (i) use the Napster service to infringe the intellectual property rights of others in any way."