SAN FRANCISCO Napster as we know it may come to an end as early as this weekend.
The company plans to voluntarily filter out as many as a million copyrighted song files from its popular file-sharing service using a new screening system that should be in place by Monday, the company's lawyer, David Boies, said Friday (March 2).
"I think Napster will still be the best music system out there. It will not be the same," Boies said after a court hearing.
Napster and the Recording Industry Association of America were in court before U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel, who is deciding how to rewrite an injunction that Napster has said could effectively shut its popular service down.
The injunction could come at any time. "The reason for this hearing is to discuss not if, but what an injunction should look like," Patel said.
Napster's new screening system works by preventing offending file names submitted by record companies, publishing companies and artists such as Metallica and Dr. Dre from appearing in Napster's file index, which in turn prevents the files from appearing in search results, according to the company.
"We have identified a large number a small percentage, but a large number of files that have been presented to us," Boies said in court. "We have had a group at Napster working literally night and day to find a process to block access to those files."
The filtering system will slow Napster's performance and require the company to add additional servers, which it will do as soon as possible, Boies said.
What remains unclear is how many songs the million file names represent, since a single song is often represented by multiple file names on Napster, on which users are responsible for naming files.
A search on Friday for Napster for 'NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye," for instance, turned up a seemingly endless list of file names, including: "NSYNC-Bye Bye Bye.mp3," "Nysync- Bye, Bye, Bye.mp3," "Bye Bye Bye by Nsync.mp3" and "Nsync- Bye Bye Bye (Good).mp3."
During a press conference, Boies did not respond to a question about how many song titles are represented in the million filenames.
Napster and the RIAA voiced disagreement during the hearing over how record companies should notify the service in the future about songs they want blocked from trading. The industry wants to identify songs by title and artist name. Napster said labels should instead identify songs by the names of the files under which they are trading.
"It's a shared burden," Boies told the court. "We have the burden of policing the system. [The labels] have the burden of identifying the songs and the files."
The five major record companies, along with the RIAA, sued Napster for copyright violation in December 1999. Patel issued a preliminary injunction in July, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court stayed that order pending an appeal from Napster.
On February 12, a three-judge panel supported most of the reasoning behind Patel's initial injunction, but ordered her to narrow its scope. Soon afterward, Napster offered to pay a $1 billion settlement over five years to labels in exchange for being allowed to continue operating as a subscription-based service. No label has yet accepted the offer.
Napster already has asked the entire 9th Circuit Court to review the three-judge ruling, and will likely ask the court to again stay the injunction. If that fails, Napster's last line of defense would be a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court requesting a stay, although it is unclear whether Napster would choose that path.
For complete coverage of the Napster saga, check out MTV News' "Napster Files."
(This report was updated at 6:38 p.m. ET Friday, March 2, 2001.)