Rap artist Dr. Dre served the company with an ultimatum earlier this week, demanding that it remove his work from its service or face potential legal consequences. Napster's attorneys said today that the company can't agree to the request and that all it can do is block specific people whom musicians say are illegally trading songs.
"Napster will block access to people who are identified by copyright holders as violators," said Napster's attorney, Fenwick & West's Lawrence Pulgrum. "We sent that to Dr. Dre. Now it's up to them what to do."
That response isn't sitting well with the musicians. Dr. Dre's attorney, Howard King, who also represents Metallica in that band's pending lawsuit against Napster, called the company's response "comical."
Napster's response appears to portend yet another round of legal action from the recording community, which is already fighting for its life in the courts.
The company's music-swapping service allows individual computer users to open their MP3 music collections to others on the Internet and to download songs directly from other community members' machines. In the past few months the service has become hugely popular, with thousands of people online and hundreds of thousands of songs available at any given moment.
But that's infuriated the record industry and some musicians, who say Napster is simply a tool for point-and-click piracy. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued to shut down Napster late last year in a case now nearing an early judgment.
Hard-rock band Metallica joined in late last week, suing Napster and a trio of universities, which the band said had abetted students' illegal use of the software program. One of the three, Yale University, has since barred the use of Napster on its campus and has been dropped as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Howard King, the Los Angeles attorney representing Dr. Dre and Metallica, says that the suits have sparked considerable interest among members of the music community. Aside from the rap artist, other musicians are likely to weigh in with their own lawsuits or to join Metallica's lawsuit soon, he said.
"We've had a number of communications with other artists," King said. "I would be pretty surprised if we don't see legal action from others in the next few weeks."