Music industry at odds with BT over Napster

Music industry says ban Napster as BT puts on its boogie boots

As music industry executives line up to condemn Napster, the music sharing phenomenon being sued by Heavy Metal band Metallica, the controversial service found a friend in British Telecom (quote: BT) this week, kicking off yet another copyright furore.

Unlike telecoms providers across the pond, BT has labelled Napster "innovative" and has confirmed it has no plans to block its users from using the service, even though it effectively turns a user's machine into a server. Last month American cable company Cox@Home of San Diego banned around 350 customers from using Napster claiming that running server software was against its terms and conditions.

Perhaps surprisingly, BT has come out in support of the music industry's latest nemesis. "The model of Napster is indicative of how the Internet will grow," says Internet manager of BTopenworld Bob Foster. "We don't want to stop people using Napster and other innovative applications like it."

Foster's comments have been seized upon by an increasingly defensive band of musicians who want Napster and its imitators stopped. Stewart Feeney, A&R director of musicunsigned, a Web site that promotes new bands is disappointed by BT's comments. "BT is coming from a totally different stand point. We are concerned with copyright and they are a communications company. We have totally the opposite view," he says.

That view may, according to Feeney, prompt other providers to take the law into their own hands. "Service providers banning it would be one option. It would be a shame if it has to come to that but radical action should be taken," he says.

BT's stance has also dismayed the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), one of the record industry's most powerful bodies. It endorses the Cox@Home approach. Technology executive for IFPI, Richard Gooch, believes action against applications like Napster are necessary in the fight against piracy. "If people using Napster are being unplugged then we are pleased about that," says Gooch. "We are glad to see that services providers can take action on these issues."

Gooch believes there is currently a commercial backlash against getting things for free on the Net. "As the Internet becomes more commercially reliant there is less tolerance for the original anarchistic uses of the Net," he says.

Head of new media at BMG entertainment group Rob Wells also welcomes the stand being taken by Cox@Home and sees it as inevitable that UK operators will follow suit. "I think ISPs will stop people from using services like Napster and we would actively encourage them to dissuade users from downloading illegal MP3 files," he says. Despite this he admits the fight against Napster is going to be a hard one. "No-one is actually breaking the law," he admits.

And while the music industry rushes to support the maverick US provider, cries of inappropriate censorship came from the Head of the TMA (Telecoms Managers' Association). David Harrington believes operators banning access to certain sites, without legal precedent or proper debate is fundamentally flawed. "There is the potential to do it but it would be close to censorship. For service providers to dictate what can and can't be downloaded is wrong," he says.

First the Fonz, now Napster. Will Net users ever be willing to pay for entertainment content on the Web? Web trends expert Annette Hamilton has research that suggests the answer is ... nope. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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