Napster names new CEO

Napster names new CEO

File-sharing service Napster named Konrad Hilbers, a former senior executive at Bertelsmann AG, as its new chief executive officer (CEO) on Tuesday.

Hilbers, who has been with the German media giant since 1992, will be replacing Napster's interim CEO Hank Barry, according to a statement from Bertelsmann. Barry, who was named interim CEO in May 2000, will remain on Napster's board of directors, according to the statement.

For the last six months, Hilbers has served as chief administrative officer of BMG Entertainment, the music division of Bertelsmann, a Bertelsmann spokesman said. He was also executive vice president and chief operating officer for AOL/Bertelsmann Europe, which was at the time jointly owned by America Online and Bertelsmann, and is now owned by AOL Time Warner.

"I'm looking forward to moving Napster toward a legitimate service that rewards artists and copyright holders," Hilbers said at Jupiter Media Metrix's Plug In forum in New York Tuesday.

Hilbers, who sat beside Barry fielding questions at the forum, brushed aside suggestions that Napster was dead.

"I'm convinced the Napster brand cannot be killed (in the short term)," Hilbers said, adding people enjoyed the community the site offered.

The fact that a former Bertelsmann executive will now be heading up Napster is just another twist in the complicated relationship between the two companies. Bertelsmann was one of the major music labels that initially filed a copyright lawsuit against Napster, but in the midst of that lawsuit, BMG and Napster also formed an alliance in October 2000 to develop a paid subscription membership service.

Despite the new CEO's connections with BMG, Hilbers said that his appointment at Napster was not "a warrant of BMG's support" for the company.

In June, Napster signed a licensing deal with MusicNet, the upcoming online subscription music service which is a joint venture operated by Bertelsmann AG, AOL Time Warner, EMI Recorded Music and RealNetworks.

At the time, Napster also said that by the third quarter of this year it hopes to offer a two-tiered paid music subscription service. Users will be able to subscribe to a basic Napster service, which will focus on small artists and independent record labels, or a premium service that will include music from the major labels, Barry said at the time.

Despite the company's continued legal problems and its severely restricted current service, Napster is pushing ahead with the planned launch of it new membership service, and Hilbers' first task will be to oversee the launch which is still expected by the end of August, according to the statement from Bertelsmann.

Speaking at the Plug In forum, Barry joked about the company's insistence that it would launch the subscription service in the U.S. "summer" -- the year's third quarter -- despite the fact that time is running short.

"I'm learning a lot about the Indian summer," Barry quipped, referring to periods of warm weather during parts of the year when the weather is normally cold, extending the season.

The company is still testing its filters, however, to make sure that the service will comply with a court order to identify and protect all copyright music.

"We have the capability of switching the service back up , and we are confident that it will work, but we want to be sure" it is 100 percent effective in protecting copyright music, Barry said.

"In a sense, we have to impose a higher standard on ourselves than any legal entity would come up with," he added.

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