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Uncle Napster wants you

Stung by a series of potentially crippling court decisions, the music-swapping service is trying to mold its millions of members into political shock troops.

Are you a Napster fellow traveler?

Stung by a series of potentially crippling court decisions, the music-swapping service is trying to mold its millions of members into political shock troops.

As part of a periodic newsletter sent Tuesday, the company called for the creation of a new "Napster Action Network." It asked individuals to sign up for tasks, ranging from e-mailing legislators or joining local "Advocacy chapters" to recruiting friends on Napster's behalf.

"Support from the Napster Community has been the key to our success in the past," the company told its members in the newsletter. "In the coming months, we will need it more than ever."

A representative for the company could give no details on what kind of activities Napster Advocacy chapters might plan.

The company is facing dark days ahead, after a court decision Monday threatened to pull most popular, copyrighted music off the music-swapping service. Although the federal appeals judges stopped short of ordering the company to shut down, they asked a lower court to modify a previous injunction that potentially would have had that effect.

Napster executives said the latest ruling could still "shut down the company before a trial on the merits." The company's attorneys said they would appeal the decision.

The company's new Napster's day in courtpolitical tactics closely resemble those of grassroots organizing campaigns that have previously made their marks on Congress. Activists from the environmental to the anti-abortion sectors have long used e-mail and the Internet as organizing tools.

Instant e-mail alerts and online tools for contacting legislators proved powerful weapons in the late 1990s for activists fighting to keep Congress and law enforcement from curtailing rights to use software encryption tools, which stop unwanted eyes from reading private e-mails or computer files. The same organizing tools were used to mobilize opposition to the anti-Net pornography Communications Decency Act.