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"I want to make sure this technology is not killed in the cradle."
—Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

NAPSTER NEWS: TIME TO SHARE

Everybody's Still Talking

Napster, Napster, Napster. In the wake of an appellate hearing which resulted in the stay on the injunction against the increasingly popular online file-sharing service remaining in place, the Redwood City, CA, company has continued to generate headlines.

After the three judges in appellate court aggressively questioned both sides—and gave RIAA attorney Russell Frackman in particular an unexpectedly tough going-over—Napster enjoyed even greater visibility in the news, which no doubt contributed to a further spike in traffic. But users had been in a downloading frenzy for some time anyway.

Net research outfit Media Metrix announced this week that between February and August, Napster use increased over 500%, and noted that the service "remains the fastest-growing home software application ever." Napster now claims over 32 million users.

With such astonishing growth and activity—a brief, hardware-prompted crash of the service on 10/4 caused a flood of desperate e-mail from download junkies—it's not surprising that, despite Napster's legal difficulties, talk of the company's possible acquisition or other deals with larger entities continues.

One scenario had Napster being absorbed by Atlanta-based Ineternet Service Provider Earthlink. Though denying plans to buy Napster, the ISP intimated that it was in "tactical" discussions with the company. "It's all part of Earthlink trying to determine what our core music distribution is going to be," President Mike McQuary told AccessAtlanta.com.

"The ISP story last week was just wrong, had no basis, nada," Napster CEO Hank Barry told HITS. Even so, Barry added, "We are interested in working with all parties who have a sincere interest in Napster."

Those parties could ultimately include RealNetworks chieftain Rob Glaser, who remarked at a recent European technology conference that he, too, might be interested in purchasing Napster once the "lawsuits were cleared up."

Barry also took the opportunity to counter the feisty public contentions of BMG New Media point man Kevin Conroy, who lashed out following the appeals hearing, claiming Napster hadn't negotiated seriously with labels and offered no real business model.

"We have offered many economic models that would result in substantial payments to artists," Barry insisted. "We have not had any proposals in response. We have had a good-faith dispute and it is time for good-faith negotiations."

Napster co-founder Shawn Fanning, meanwhile, received a hero's welcome when he testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee field hearing on peer-to-peer technology at Utah's Brigham Young University. The hearing was chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who praised Fanning roundly and expressed concern that litigation against Napster could have negative reverberations for consumers. "I want to make sure this technology is not killed in the cradle," Hatch declared. I want to make sure you find a way to compensate artists. But for that to happen, Napster has to be in business. I question whether it's in the public interest for Napster to be shut down before a trial can happen.

"The last thing I want is the government coming in and telling you what to do," Hatch warned the antagonists in the case, "but that's what's going to happen if this thing isn't resolved."

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