RIAA Stays Hot on Napster's Heels

Napster says it's compliant — but the record industry isn't satisfied.

The Recording Industry Association of America said yesterday that it will file a complaint in court next week saying Napster has failed to comply with an injunction requiring it to block copyrighted songs from its directory.

"It's clear that Napster is not complying with the court's order to remove copyrighted material on its site. We're going to file a non-compliance report to the court next week," said Jano Cabrera, a spokesman for the RIAA.

"We will spell out in detail our concerns in our filing," he said.

Under an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel on March 5, Napster must screen out copyrighted songs that have been identified by the record companies, which first filed the landmark copyright infringement suit against the wildly popular service in December 1999.

The world's biggest record labels — including Vivendi Universal's Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, EMI Group, and Bertelsmann AG's BMG — have collectively sent the company lists of more than half a million songs, severely curtailing the amount of music available on the service.

According to research firm Webnoize, Napster users were downloading 50 percent fewer files as the company ramped up its screening technology last week.

Napster's service sparked a revolution in the music world by enabling users to swap songs for free by trading MP3 files, a compression format that turns music on compact discs into small digital files. It has attracted more than 60 million users.

While downloading on the service is down, music industry officials said Napster's efforts have fallen short because a lot of songs that should be blocked are still readily available. Furthermore, the company has failed to prevent users from sidestepping its screening mechanism by merely changing the spelling of file names.

While no date has been set for the RIAA's filing, sources expect it will be entered early next week.

Many observers had expected disputes to arise following the issuance of the injunction.

Napster had no immediate comment on the RIAA's plans, but it has already filed two compliance reports with the court, which said the labels themselves have not been in compliance with the injunction.

Napster Chief Executive Hank Barry has said that many of the songs submitted were missing file names, as required by the court order.

"When all of the information was submitted properly, then Napster has removed the files from its service," a spokesman for Napster said on Thursday.

In its filing, Napster said that the record labels' lack of compliance has placed a serious and inappropriate economic and physical burden on Napster.

Napster has tried to block misspellings manually and has also recently announced an alliance with Gracenote, which has a database with millions of song name variations.

However, Napster users have grown increasingly adept at developing ways to evade these filters.

While Napster has tried to block certain techniques, such as using pig Latin to change artists' names, other methods have managed to evade the blocking.

Napster is hoping to survive until July, when it plans to launch a paid subscription service with Bertelsmann AG.

Reuters contributed to this report.