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Indiana University gets cautious, drops Napster

Another ally has fallen away from the beleaguered music-swapping software company.

Another ally has fallen away from beleaguered music-swapping software company Napster.

Indiana University, one of three schools sued along with Napster last week for violating music copyrights, said today that it would block its students from using the file-sharing program on its networks.

The decision comes shortly after fellow defendant Yale University also said it would block the software. Heavy-metal band Metallica, which filed the lawsuit late last week, dropped Yale from the case yesterday in response to the university's actions.

"The lawsuit made us look at this issue in great detail," said Christopher Simpson, Indiana University's vice president of public affairs. "It is our view that the university is not liable. But it is clear that individuals may be."

Until the legal issues surrounding students and staff use of Napster are cleared up, the university will filter Napster traffic from its networks, Simpson said.

Napster, which allows computer users to open their hard drives to others online to trade MP3 music files, is the focus of worldwide attention as it fights for its life against the record industry and a growing chorus of artists. The software's critics say it allows widespread piracy of copyrighted works, while Napster says its program also can be used to trade legal music files.

Indiana's move to the cautious side of the fence marks a particularly telling blow for Napster, however.

The college had already blocked students' use of the software once, citing concerns that song downloads were clogging its network. But after working with Napster to iron out the bandwidth issues, Indiana allowed the software back on its system.

"Once we got the technical side taken care of, the legal issues came up," Simpson said.

Despite the defections, many attorneys say courts aren't likely to hold the universities responsible for copyright violations for using Napster. Federal copyright law protects Internet service providers from being liable for most of what flows over their networks, and the schools are likely to fall into this category, some lawyers say.

Metallica's lawyers said they had not yet confirmed the matter with Indiana, but that they would likely drop the school from the lawsuit if the Napster block gets put in place.