Appeals Court Ruling Means Napster Filters Stay Put

File-sharing service had asked judges to reconsider February ruling that led to song screening.

The court order that forces Napster to block copyrighted songs isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Napster had asked the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a February ruling by a three-judge panel that allowed a lower court to mandate song screening (see "The Court Rules: Napster's Days May Be Numbered"). But in a terse ruling issued Friday, the appeals court judges unanimously denied Napster's request for a new hearing.

Napster has the option of appealing the original ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the company has not decided whether it will do so, a Napster spokesperson said.

"While we are disappointed that the [court] declined to reconsider its February 2001 decision, we recognized going in that rehearing petitions are infrequently granted," Napster general counsel Jonathan Schwartz said Monday in a statement. "That is especially so at this stage of the case, where no trial has yet been held in the underlying case. We will now review our legal options going forward."

The Recording Industry Association of America cheered the appeals court's decision. "This decision puts to rest any questions that Napster has raised regarding the earlier decision and affirms the rights of copyright holders on the Internet," said RIAA Senior Executive Vice President Cary Sherman.

Schwartz said that Napster will continue to comply with the district court injunction that compels the service to screen out copyrighted material cited by rights holders.

He added that when Napster's new, subscription-based service begins operation this summer, the company expects that it "will put to rest many of the outstanding legal issues." Napster recently struck a deal to provide music from three major record companies through their joint venture, MusicNet, but two of them said they were doubtful of the future of the deal (see "Napster Strikes Deal With Three Major Record Companies").

Meanwhile, Napster has launched a new version of its service, Napster 2.0 Beta 10.3, that for the first time uses audio fingerprinting technology — which examines the musical content of files, not just their user-provided names — to screen files, according to a spokesperson for the service. An earlier version tested fingerprinting technology but didn't use it to block files (see "Updated Napster Taking Songs' 'Fingerprints'").

Napster will soon render prior versions of its software inoperable, forcing users to upgrade, the company said.

(For complete coverage of online music, check out MTV News' "Napster Files.")