Napster to add copy protection

While the world waits for final details from the court on Napster's short-term fate, the company and the record industry outline competing versions of the music-swapping service's future.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
3 min read
While the world waits for final details from the court on Napster's short-term fate, the company and the record industry outlined competing versions of the music-swapping service's future.

Napster's day in court The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed its suggestions in federal court late Thursday on what kind of restrictions should be imposed on Napster to bar the company from swapping copyrighted music.

Just hours later, Napster unveiled a first look of its plans for protecting music swapped inside its subscription service. Although details are short, the company said it planned to use digital copy protection technology produced by a Bertelsmann subsidiary to secure files transferred inside its network.

"Today's announcement underscores one key fact: The real questions about Napster's future are economic, not technical or legal," Napster Chief Executive Hank Barry said in a statement. "This...is further evidence of the seriousness of our effort to reach an agreement with the record companies that will keep Napster running, reliable and enjoyable."

Hanging over each side's efforts is Monday's decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which ruled that Napster was effectively encouraging its members to violate the record industry's copyrights. While it stopped short of shutting the company down, it did say that a lower court should modify a previous preliminary injunction that had threatened to do so last July.

The new preliminary injunction, which will be written, like its successor, by federal Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, should bar the company from allowing files specifically named by the record companies from being transferred using Napster's software, rather than stop all the labels' copyrighted works.

The RIAA did not release the full text of its proposed injunction, filed with Patel late Thursday evening. But a statement noted that it was based on the appeals court's decision.

"In brief, the record company and publisher plaintiffs will identify to Napster their copyrighted music, and under the proposed order, Napster must prevent infringement of that music on its system," the RIAA said in its statement. "The order would also require Napster to 'patrol' its own system as specifically directed in the opinion of the court of appeals, a remedy especially appropriate because of Napster's egregious conduct as recognized by the court."

A protected Napster
Although details were slim on how the new copy protections inside Napster would work, the company said it would restrict some of the unlimited freedoms to download and copy that the services' members currently have.

Among the new restrictions will apparently be limitations on what could be done with songs after they are downloaded from the subscription service. The company specifically cited limits on the ability to burn music files onto CDs, for example.

The company will not be using off-the-shelf versions of existing copy-protection technology. Developed by Bertelsmann subsidiary Digital World Services (DWS), the technology will be "specifically tailored to the requirements of file sharing," the company said.

It is clear that the addition of the DWS protections will substantially change today's free-ranging Napster experience. Napster executives, however, downplayed the changes, saying the security company understood members' needs.

"They really understand the technologies involved and are sensitive to the user experience," said Napster Chief Technical Officer Eddie Kessler. "We are confident that the new system will allow us to accomplish key goals of the record companies in terms of restricting use, while still maintaining and improving the performance and service levels of the Napster system."

Patel's release of a new preliminary injunction against Napster is expected sometime in the next several weeks, but no schedule has been set. Napster attorneys have said they will likely appeal the new injunction.