Banned Napster users strike back

Despite what some believe was Napster's attempt to plant an ID in users' computers, Metallica files are back in play
Written by Marilynn Wheeler, Contributor

Technology got them onto Napster. Technology got them banned. Now technology is helping some of the 317,377 blacklisted users start downloading music again. Even Metallica's music. But they are also upset that Napster may have used technology to trick them into downloading a tracking ID into their personal computers, helping the company enforce its ban.

Napster announced Wednesday that it was preventing access to users identified by the heavy metal band Metallica as trading in unauthorised copies of their songs. The Napster service allows users to exchange personal MP3 music files.

But within hours of the ban Wednesday, a user logged on as "Cryptic" had posted a workaround for the banned users on Napster message boards. He became an immediate hero among fellow users.

Requests for comment from Napster's lawyers and its spokesman were not immediately answered.

North Carolina ophthamologist Pat Dennis uses Napster to download oldies -- Bob Dylan, the Beatles, early Bruce Springsteen -- music he has on vinyl. His wife prefers soul music and country.

Their 15-year-old son, Seth, who turned the rest of the family on to Napster, is the Metallica fan.

The younger Dennis suspected his name might be among those Metallica produced as evidence that Napster users were downloading copyrighted music. Sure enough, when Dennis clicked into Napster on Wednesday, a dialogue box popped up to say the Napster Beta 6 upgrade was being loaded onto his computer.

He waited until installation was complete, and immediately got the message that he'd been banned.

Dennis said he tried to uninstall Beta 6 and reinstall the old version. He tried logging on with a different user name. No go.

The teen said he deleted everything in his Windows 98 registry that contained the word "Napster." He still could not log on under a new user name. So he reinstalled Beta 5. Bingo.

He could log on again under a new name and he didn't get the automatic Beta 6 upgrade. Clearly, there was a Trojan horse, he said. From his prior knowledge, Dennis believed the software had installed a hidden key in his registry during the upgrade installation.

"When you sign on, it makes you think you're getting something you want, but it's really something you don't want," Dennis said. "They don't say, 'Wait a minute while we doctor your registry so you can never log on to Napster again.' They say 'Welcome to this wonderful new version of Napster.'"

Dennis found a user message on a Napster bulletin board describing a method to "unban" himself.

"To me, Napster is useful for getting single cuts of things, although I certainly understand the copyright issues," Dennis said.

And he said he wouldn't mind paying for the music. "My suggestion would be for groups to offer single tracks online so that people don't have to purchase a whole CD."

The impact of Napster will be felt far beyond the confines of the record industry's executive suites. And few software programs have generated as much controversy as Napster. Go with Bill Burnham for a brief history and predictions for Napster's future.

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