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Band rages against Napster ban of fans

Another group of music fans is banned from the music-swapping service for trading copyrighted music--but this time, the band involved appears to be as angry as the fans.

Another round of music fans has been banned from Napster's music-swapping service for trading copyrighted music--but this time, the band involved appears to be as angry as the fans.

Fans of rock band Rage Against The Machine began reporting that they were banned from Napster early Thursday morning. As was the case with people trading Metallica and Dr. Dre songs, Napster members were blocked from logging on and sent instead to a Web page saying they had been identified as probable copyright infringers.

But this time, the band apparently was just as surprised by the action as its fans. After a day of complaints on the band's Web page, a band member surfaced with an apology.

"The move to take action against Rage fans was taken completely unilaterally by our new management," guitar player Tom Morello wrote in a posting on the band's Web site. "As soon as I was made aware of this horrible mistake on their part, I immediately phoned our management and the record company to see what we could do to get our Napster-using fans reinstated as soon as possible."

Morello also posted links to instructions for evading the Napster block. However, both of those links led to dead pages just a few hours after the post.

The dispute highlights the split between record labels and many artists who have taken Napster's side in the online copyright wars, or who have at least pulled back from attacking the company.

Sony Music Group, the parent company of Rage Against The Machine's label, Epic, is one of several record companies suing Napster. The labels contend that the service contributes to massive online copyright infringement. The parties in that case are waiting for a California appeals court to decide whether Napster should be shut down while the case goes to a full trial. A decision is expected any day.

Since that case was filed, however, media giant Bertelsmann, which owns record label BMG Entertainment, has broken ranks to invest in Napster. BMG remains a party to the lawsuit but will withdraw once the two companies are able to create a legal, subscription-based service.

The Rage Against The Machine block came as a particular surprise to many fans, as the band has long been an outspoken opponent of corporate America and even defended Napster in an earlier interview.

In his apology message, Morello said he had contacted his management and record label to try to reinstate the blocked Napster accounts.

"Per my instructions, no further notices will be sent out, and again, I apologize for this undermining of your right to hear our music," Morello wrote. "In the future we will be more vigilant about this matter."

Sony and band Napster wildfiremanagement company QPrime could not be reached for comment. A Napster representative said that as of late Thursday afternoon, neither party had contacted Napster and that the ban remained in effect.

Napster declined to comment on how many people had been affected or on precisely when the ban had gone into effect.