Napster Eludes Judgement

Company goes on the offensive in court battle with RIAA

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After more than a year of playing defense, Napster went on the offensive this week, suggesting that the record industry has committed antitrust violations in forging MusicNet and PressPlay, their new online music services that also combat piracy. The maneuver worked, as U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel, who previously issued an injunction against Napster, took the Recording Industry Association of America's request for a summary judgement against Napster under submission, but opted to delay her ruling.

The RIAA filed its request for a summary judgement on August 9th. Having previously sought an injunction to halt the illegal trading of music files through Napster, the summary judgement was the organization's attempt to hold Napster accountable for the instances of copyright infringement and lead the proceedings to the damages phase.

But on Wednesday, Napster's attorneys went after the recording industry, citing law that prohibits copyright holders from fighting piracy, if they in turn have misused those copyrights. Napster's counsel asked Patel to rule on whether MusicNet (formed by AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann Music Group and EMI along with RealNetworks) and PressPlay (formed by Sony and Universal) were formed anti-competitively. Of MusicNet, Patel said it "looks bad, sounds bad and smells bad."

While the delay doesn't necessarily constitute a victory for Napster, it does allow the company to remain online as it continues to develop its subscription-based service, with plans to launch this year.

Napster has undergone a series of ups and downs this year, including an order from Patel in July to remain offline until it was capable of blocking all unauthorized material from the site. Shortly after that order, Napster reached settlements with two of its most high-profile adversaries, Dr. Dre and Metallica; both filed copyright infringement suits against Napster last year, but dropped those suits in July.