Napster Blocks Users Listed By Metallica

Those who believe their MP3-trading accounts were incorrectly identified can apply for reinstatement.

Napster Inc. has blocked access to its MP3-trading software for 317,000 users identified last week by hard-rock band Metallica as copyright infringers, the company said on Wednesday (May 10).

"Napster has always stated that it would act in response to notice from copyright holders, and it has lived up to that commitment in good faith," Napster lawyer Laurence Pulgram said in a press release.

"This shows that artists can get results when they stand up for what is right," Metallica spokesperson Gayle Fine at Q Prime Management said on Wednesday in response to Napster's action.

Pulgram did not immediately return calls Wednesday.

Metallica sued Napster last month, claiming the company's popular namesake software enables copyright infringement by allowing users to trade near-CD-quality MP3 files of songs such as "Fuel" (RealAudio excerpt) without the band's authorization.

But the band remains committed to the lawsuit, according to Fine. "Just because they took off the names doesn't mean it's over," she said.

Lars Ulrich, the band's drummer, delivered 13 boxes of Napster user screen-names to the company's San Mateo, Calif., offices May 3. The following day, the band sent the information in computerized format.

Metallica originally announced it had found 335,435 alleged infringers. Napster said the computer data the band submitted included 317,377 users.

Napster promised to block the users, in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The 1998 law requires Internet service providers to terminate the accounts of known infringers.

Friday, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued a preliminary ruling in a separate infringement case filed against Napster by the music industry. Patel found that Napster had not reasonably implemented a termination policy, and therefore, the company was not eligible for protection under specific provisions of the DMCA in that case.

The law allows people who think they were mistakenly banned to file a counter-notification. Napster said in an announcement that it will notify Metallica of such claims. If the band does not file a court action against the individual users within 10 days, the person's account will be reinstated, in accordance with the DMCA. Reinstatement could happen within two weeks.

But even banning infringing users is not likely to hurt Napster's overwhelming popularity, according to Internet entertainment analyst Aram Sinnreich of Jupiter Communications.

"We're talking about a third of a million users," he said. "It's not like it's going to make a major dent in their 10 million registered users. If anything, they more than made up for it in the press they received with this story."

The Metallica vs. Napster case has become ground zero for the debate over online music piracy. Rapper Dr. Dre, who is represented by the same lawyer as Metallica, filed a similar infringement case against Napster.

Meanwhile, punk band the Offspring and rapper Chuck D have claimed the program is a valuable promotional tool, and rap-metal's Limp Bizkit signed Napster on as sponsor of their free summer tour with hip-hop's Cypress Hill.