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Is Napster's Metallica ban weakening?

The music-swapping software firm's attempt to ban hundreds of thousands of Metallica fans from its service may be cracking around the edges.

Music-swapping software firm Napster's attempt to ban hundreds of thousands of Metallica fans from its service may be cracking around the edges.

Earlier this week, the company pulled the plug on 317,377 user accounts after Metallica's attorneys identified the usernames as alleged copyright infringers. To make the ban stick, Napster created a new version of its software intended to keep people from simply signing up for the service again under a new name.

But a few tech-savvy subscribers have figured out a way around the ban and started posting instructions for the others on Napster's online bulletin boards.

In a message posted on its member bulletin boards this afternoon, the company threatened to block any subscriber who posted information on how to circumvent the ban.

"Any posts regarding the circumvention of bans placed by Napster will be deleted and the username will be banned," the message board moderator wrote. "The (person's Internet Protocol address) will be logged, and a second offense will trigger an IP ban on the individual's account."

The company is see related story: Napster tests new copyright lawstuck in a difficult position, attempting to abide by the strictures of copyright law while trying to please its members as much as possible. Under federal rules, Internet companies have to remove content or links identified by copyright holders as potential copyright infringements or face legal liability.

"Napster is taking its obligations very seriously," said Dan Wool, a company spokesman. "They're taking all the steps they have available to them and hope users will take this as seriously as they do."

Some Napster users have recognized that bind and have defended the company's attempt to squelch discussion about getting around the lockout.

"Everybody should know by now that anything that appears in these messages ends up in Metallica's lawyers' hands," a person going by the username DefkonOne wrote on the message boards. "It's only right that Napster does everything in its control to continue the requested ban."

The company is also making clear to people that they can appeal the ban if they feel they have been misidentified as copyright infringers. Napster gave explicit instructions on how this appeal process works in a message still posted on its Web site.

Other storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. A lawyer said yesterday that rap artist Dr. Dre was compiling a list of Napster usernames making his songs available online and would submit that list to Napster next week.