Napster begins to block songs

Napster begins to block songs

Napster Inc looked to be making good on its promise to block more than a million music titles, as songs by the Beatles, Metallica and Jimi Hendrix dropped off the network on Monday.

A search for the Metallica song "Fade to Black" at 1:40am EST Monday turned up just four songs. A few hours earlier the same search pulled in 100 matches, the maximum permitted by the song-swapping network. A search for the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" brought in 17 songs, compared with the 100 returned only a few hours earlier. There was a remarkable drop off as well for Hendrix songs, such as "Purple Haze" and "Foxy Lady".

A Napster spokeswoman early Monday morning confirmed the California-based startup had implemented a new filter designed to keep users from downloading unauthorised songs. Napster, which is trying to ward off a draconian court order that could come any day, unveiled the new system on Friday at a hearing in federal court. Although Napster says it is blocking more than a million file names, the number of songs being blocked is believed to be much smaller. Napster won't provide an estimate.

The arrival of the filter marks the first time in Napster's meteoric two-year history that the company has filtered specific songs. Last July, Napster said the only way it could comply with a federal judge's order to block unauthorised music was to shut down the service completely. Napster's announcement of the screen on Friday came two-and-a-half weeks after a federal appeals court handed the service a crushing defeat.

Friday's hearing before US District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in San Francisco came in the wake of last month's blistering decision from an appeals court, to the effect that Napster aids in the massive infringement of record labels' copyrights. The decision dealt a serious blow to the startup, but the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said an earlier injunction by Patel ordering Napster to block unauthorised songs was "overbroad" and instructed the lower-court judge to reword the order.

The new Napster will prevent specific file titles from appearing in its catalogue of songs. A statement on Napster's Web site said the metamorphosis will come at a cost. "It is a complex technological solution that is very taxing to the system and will degrade the operation of the service," the statement said. "In addition, it will result in the exclusion of a great many files that are authorised as opposed to unauthorised."

Representatives from the Recording Industry Association of America were not immediately available for comment.

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