Banned Napster Users Fight Back

Thousands of users booted by Napster last week for allegedly swapping copies of Metallica songs online are claiming that they have done nothing wrong and want their access to the music swapping software restored.

The San Mateo, California-based Napster issued a statement Tuesday saying that more than 30,000 of the roughly 300,000 fans who were banned from the site after being named by the hard rock band Metallica as copyright violators have notified the company that they were mistakenly identified by the band.

Latest Volley

The move is just the latest in the ongoing war between Napster and the music industry. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Metallica and rapper Dr. Dre have all filed suits against the company charging that its software encourages piracy by allowing users to trade copyrighted songs through its servers.

Two weeks ago, Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich hand-delivered a list of 317,377 user names to Napster and demanded that the company refuse service to all of the individuals fingered. Dr. Dre is expected to deliver his own list of names to Napster Wednesday.

Napster complied with Metallica’s request and removed the users last week, after a judge in the RIAA case ruled that the company was not entitled to safe harbor protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). However, after removing the users, Napster placed a notice at their site telling users how to file a counter notification if they felt they had been misidentified.

Sue or Reinstate

Napster’s announcement places Metallica in the hot seat because, according to U.S. copyright law, if the band does not file suit against the individual users within 10 days, Napster can reinstate them.

Metallica’s lawyer, Howard King, has said that the band has no plans to sue 30,000 users because it would be a waste of time. The band itself has also said that it would not go after fans. According to Metallica singer and guitarist James Hetfield, “We are going after Napster, the main artery. We are not going after individual fans. Metallica has always felt fans are family.”

Lawyer Expresses Distrust

Although Metallica is not planning to sue its fans, King said he does not believe that 30,000 users were misidentified and has reportedly called them “liars.”

Nineteen year-old Napster founder Shawn Fanning said, “The fact that so many people have come forward and disputed Metallica’s accusation that they did not break the law demonstrates that this is not a black and white issue.”

Many Napster users are not waiting for the ban to be lifted and have found ways around the company’s controls. Within hours of being banned, some fans had found a way back onto the site and were posting instructions on message boards around the Web, including Napster’s own, telling other users how to get back in.

Napster removed the “Circumventing Napster Bans” user forum and informed users that “Any posts regarding the circumvention of bans placed by Napster will be deleted and the username will be banned.”

Napster Wins with Fans

Even though the music industry does not like Napster, fans do. A survey by research firm Webnoize, Inc. showed that 73 percent of college students use Napster’s software at least once a month.

The site also won a pair of Webby Awards, the Web’s version of the Oscar, last week. The site was named best music site by a panel of experts that includes filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening and rock singer David Bowie.

The site also captured the People’s Voice award, voted by Web users.

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