Napster finds help for filtering songs

The music-swapping company hires Gracenote, which maintains a massive database identifying recorded music, to help find and block songs from being traded online.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
3 min read
Music-swapping company Napster said Tuesday that it has hired Gracenote, which maintains a massive database identifying recorded music, to help find and block songs from being traded online.

Gracenote's CDDB database will be one tool used to help identify variations of songs that are slipping through Napster's existing filters, the music-swapping company said. The Napster service is under a court injunction that forces it to block songs identified as copyrighted by the record companies.

The news highlights the difficulty of blocking access to songs in a system where the names assigned to the underlying files are controlled by millions of individual members. In a conference call late Monday, Napster Chief Executive Hank Barry said the company was looking at several ways to address this problem.

"This is still a work in progress, as expected by the court," Barry said. But "we are trying to get these (songs) off entirely."

Napster's filtering system currently performs a relatively simple check of artist name, song name and file name. If both the artist and song names match a list submitted by the record companies, or if the file name itself has been identified as an infringing song, it cannot be shared through the service.

But according to the court, the company is also responsible for finding and blocking "reasonable" variants of these songs. This might be something such as "Enter The Sandman" instead of "Enter Sandman" by Metallica.

Napster already has a staff of people manually identifying some of these variants and entering them into the filtering database, Barry said Monday. It is developing a piece of software that will automate some of this file-name hunting. Barry also said that in addition to Gracenote, Napster is talking to U.K.-based NetPD about the possibility of helping with the effort.

Gracenote's CDDB database could be a particularly powerful tool. Many of the most popular MP3 programs creating music files from CDs are using the names of albums and songs drawn directly from this database. That means many of the file names transferred through Napster have actually been named indirectly by Gracenote.

Gracenote has a database of about 9 million songs, with the ability to recognize an additional 3 million text variations, President David Hyman said. For example, the company could identify 'NSync, *NSync, In Sync or about 50 other variations of that band's name, he said.

The list of Court gives Napster breathing roomsongs Napster is required to do its best to filter is rapidly growing. Late Friday, the industry sent a list of 135,000 titles to the company that must be blocked by the end of Wednesday under the terms of the federal district court's injunction.

Barry said Monday night that 95,000 of these were from Sony Music Group, but more than 46,000 of those titles did not comply with the requirements of the injunction. Although these songs had artists and titles submitted, Sony had not provided an associated file name previously seen on Napster as ordered by the court, Barry said.

A representative for the Recording Industry Association of America said late Monday that the organization had not yet seen the official report that Napster sent to the court certifying its compliance with the terms of the order issued last week.

"We have not seen their compliance plan," the representative said. "But we have no reason to believe they will not comply."