Napster marches back to court

On Wednesday the RIAA will ask a federal judge to stop Napster from posting certain songs to its music-sharing site

The court battle between Napster foes and fans rears its head again Wednesday. That's when the recording industry will ask a federal judge to stop Napster from posting certain songs to its music-sharing site.

During a court hearing in a San Francisco federal courtroom, both sides will present their case orally and answer any questions from federal judge Marylin Patel. Patel then could make an immediate ruling on the issue or wait and craft an order to be released at a later date.

"We don't really expect a result [this week], even though there will be a hearing. It's unlikely the judge would rule from the bench on a case this important or complicated'," said Cary Sherman, an attorney for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The RIAA sued Napster in December, claiming that its song-swapping service promotes copyright violations because it allows people to trade music for free. Then in June, the RIAA filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that, if granted, would ban Napster from posting any major label music on its site until the case is decided.

Napster fired back, saying in a filing that the recording industry is just trying to stifle competition that threatens its stranglehold on the current music distribution system.

"The fact is that Napster has given millions and millions of music fans the opportunity to hear music they haven't heard before. I'm proud to be associated with it," said Napster chief executive Hank Barry on Monday at a music conference in New York.

Napster, which has 20 million users, has hired David Boies, the attorney who successfully skewered Microsoft during its so-far ill-fated case against the Department of Justice.

Lawsuits against companies that introduce new technology to the entertainment industry have been piling up faster than kids auditioning for the latest boy band.

Napster is also the target of a lawsuit brought by the band Metallica, a move the company dismisses as a publicity stunt.

Just last week, the RIAA joined the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in suing Scour, claiming the company's service -- which lets users trade MP3, video and other files -- contributes to copyright infringement. And the MPAA has taken people to court in New York, claiming that their use of the DeCSS program -- which lets users crack DVD encryption -- amounts to copyright violation. Another suit, filed in California Superior Court in Santa Clara by a DVD trade association, also claims the use of DeCSS is illegal.

And so far, things aren't looking good for the newbie tech companies.

Already, Patel has denied Napster's motion to throw out the suit, handing a victory to traditional entertainment companies. What's more, judges in the New York and Santa Clara cases have issued orders banning defendants from posting code on their sites. And, a company that compiles databases of digital music for users to download, has backed down and settled with two music companies.

But Napster does have some ammunition on its side. Wednesday's hearing comes just a week after Jupiter Communications, a major Internet research firm, issued a study saying that Napster users are more likely to increase their music collection than people who don't use song-swapping services.

The music industry has claimed exactly the opposite, offering conflicting studies to bolster its case, studies it will probably cite during Wednesday's hearing.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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