Napster hit with lawsuit from rock group Metallica

Rock group sues Napster and several colleges, alleging copyright violation by allowing the illegal swapping of its stored music

The rock group Metallica has sued Napster and several colleges, claiming, among other things, that they violated copyright law by allowing illegal swapping of its music. E/M Ventures and Creeping Death Music are also plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed in US District Court in the Central District of California and targets the University of Southern California, Yale University and Indiana University.

This is the first time a music group has gone after Napster, the controversial software that allows people to locate and copy MP3 files.

Dozens of colleges have banned its use, claiming it hogged bandwidth and fearing they would be slapped with lawsuits similar to this one. However, in February, USC bucked that trend, saying that it would continue to allow its students to use the technology, which is downloadable from the Internet.

San Mateo, California-based Napster already is the target of a suit by the Recording Industry Association of America, which claims that Napster violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a new law that bars devices that could be used to circumvent copyrights.

Having Metallica as a plaintiff in this latest case gives the industry even more brand-name backing.

The recording industry is worried that digital music files will weaken their power over the sale and distribution of songs, and Napster is one of several new technologies that make it easier for people to swap digital music files.

In a press release announcing the suit, publicists for the band and music companies even threw in a statement from Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who said it is "sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is."

"From a business standpoint, this is about piracy -- aka taking something that doesn't belong to you -- and that is morally and legally wrong."

In the suit, Metallica and the music companies claim that Napster not only violated their copyrights, but also encouraged unlawful use of digital audio devices and enabled the violation of the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.

The suit says that students who use Napster to copy files "exhibit the moral fibre of common looters."

Napster officials weren't immediately available for comment.

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