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Music labels to ISPs: Shut down Napster clones

With Napster on the ropes, the record industry is seeking to shut down dozens of copycat services that allow Web surfers to trade music files for free.

With Napster on the ropes in a federal copyright suit, the record industry is seeking to shut down dozens of copycat services that allow Web surfers to trade music files for free over the Internet.

By early Friday, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) had sent out 75 letters of legal complaint to about 50 U.S. Internet service providers asking them to block access to a shadow Napster system, known as OpenNap, allegedly being run from their networks.

ISPs have been "taking action" in response to the requests, according to an RIAA spokesman, who confirmed that an undisclosed number of file-traders running OpenNap software have already been put out of commission.

"We have been sending these notes and asking for their cooperation, and they have been cooperative," said Jonathan Whitehead, anti-piracy counsel for the RIAA. "They don't want these types of servers on their systems, and they don't want this Napster-level piracy going on, on the part of their customers."

The letters signal the RIAA's first major offensive against online copyright pirates since winning a decision last week in a federal appeals court against the popular Napster service. The move also reveals an emboldened RIAA that has begun to carry a bigger stick in its ongoing fight against Napster and its offshoots.

OpenNap is an open-source version of the Napster technology, allowing individuals to set themselves up as smaller versions of the Napster music-swapping service. Anybody with a reasonably powerful computer and fast Net connection can run the software, creating a directory through which linked computers can search each other's hard drives for music files.

Under the mandate of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), copyright holders can serve ISPs a notice to takedown content that allegedly infringes upon the holder's copyrights. ISPs can escape all liability if they respond to the request. These measures are only applicable in the United States, but copyright holders can work with international organizations to accomplish the same result.

Whitehead said the RIAA is in consultation with the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) to send legal notices to overseas ISPs hosting OpenNap servers.

The crackdown has led to caution even among those who haven't yet received warnings from the RIAA. Rochester Institute of Technology student Alex Rinaldi, who hosts a Napster node called "siliconwaferboard.com," said Friday he had begun limiting service through his server.

"I haven't received a letter yet," Rinaldi said in an interview on the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) network. "I have, however, begun to filter certain artists that the RIAA has mentioned in letters to other server owners." Metallica, Dr. Dre, Godsmack and Celine Dion have all been cited in letters to server owners or their ISPs, Rinaldi said.

The OpenNap software was recently updated to allow text filtering, he said. Napster itself will face the same decision of whether to filter or shut down its service when a new court order is issued March 2 against its music-swapping service.

Attacking the OpenNap servers is just one front in the RIAA's long campaign against online music swappers. The RIAA's Whitehead said the record industry plans to take on the other Napster-like services such as Gnutella. He would not disclose what legal course the RIAA plans to take against them.

"It's different activity," Whitehead said about Gnutella. "We have ideas, and we're looking into it, but we will not discuss what actions we will take."