Rap artist Dr. Dre submitted a list of hundreds of thousands of usernames to the software company last week, alleging that all of them had illegally made his songs available as free downloads online. Like hard rock band Metallica before him, the artist demanded that Napster block these people from its service.
This morning, when these rap fans tried to log in to the service, they found themselves banned.
"The artist Dr. Dre has requested that your access to Napster be terminated for alleged copyright infringement," read a statement from the company that appeared in place of the service itself.
Napster went down this same road with more than 300,000 Metallica fans several weeks ago, risking the anger of many members to comply with federal copyright laws it hopes will protect the company in court.
The company is fighting several lawsuits that say it is contributing to massive copyright violations. It is claiming legal protections ordinarily extended to traditional Internet service providers, which are not responsible for material hosted or transmitted over their services. But to keep these protections, the company must respond quickly to the concerns of copyright holders such as Dr. Dre and Metallica.
At least one Napster member says he has illustrated the broad brush Dr. Dre and other artists have used in identifying copyright infringers.
In email conversations with CNET News.com beginning last week, Napster user Lee Campbell said he renamed Sesame Street's "It's Not Easy Being Green" in his file with the title of a Dr. Dre song. Today he found himself banned from the service, he said.
In its messages to members, Napster gives detailed instructions about what to do if people such as Campbell believe they have been misidentified as music pirates.
"Napster cannot itself determine whether or not the files that you were sharing fell within the category...that Dr. Dre claims are infringing," the company wrote in a message to blocked customers.
The company notes that banned members can appeal the action if they think they've been identified by mistake. Anybody who appeals will be reinstated within two weeks unless Dr. Dre individually sues that person. More than 30,000 people appealed the Metallica-incited ban on Napster users last week, prompting the band's lawyer to call them "liars."
This time around, Napster is underscoring in its message to banned members that their appeal will be a legal document, exposing them to the threat of lawsuit if they're lying. A red-lettered warning tops the form that people must submit: "Attention: This form is a legally binding document."
The lawyer who represents Metallica and Dr. Dre has said the artists are unlikely to sue thousands of individuals, however.
Some people may find other ways around the ban. After Napster blocked the Metallica list from the service, some members posted ways to circumvent the ban on the company's message boards and elsewhere on the Net.
While the skirmishes with the artists continue, Napster may be moving toward a less painful relationship with the recording industry. The company netted $15 million in venture capital funding early this week, along with a new interim CEO who has close ties to recording companies.