Bertelsmann plans Napster takeover

Reports suggest the German giant could be prepared to spend up to £21m to buy the legal profession's favourite music-swapping service

German media and publishing giant Bertelsmann may be planning to launch a takeover bid for Napster, the MP3 file-sharing company that is still deeply mired in copyright disputes.

In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt, Bertelsmann's chief executive Thomas Middelhoff said that despite its ongoing legal battles with the record industry, Napster could become the Internet's most successful music platform ever.

According to reports, Bertelsmann is prepared to spend up to £21m to buy Napster.

"Our solution is to take over Napster completely. We plan to buy out the former owners, most of all venture-capitalist Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and some private investors like John Fanning, who is the uncle of the founder Shawn Fanning," said Middelhoff.

Bertelsmann entered into a strategic alliance with Napster back in October 2000, under which the German firm gave the song-swapper financial support to help it through its legal troubles. By September 2001, experts were estimating that Bertelsmann had spent around $100m supporting Napster.

Napster is planning to relaunch itself as a subscription-based site, but this ambition has been hampered by its failure to reach an agreement with the record labels that sued it for copyright infringement. Last month it announced a further round of job cuts, and last week it emerged that it is likely to be offline for at least another nine months.

ZDNet Germany's Dietmar Mueller contributed to this report

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