- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2001

Napster's network temporarily shut down yesterday as the company continued revamping its free music file-sharing network to prepare for the eventual start of its fee-based model.

"All previous versions of Napster have been disabled," the Web site advised users yesterday. "Keep checking the system for updates."

The company, of Redwood City, Calif., has been remodeling to comply with a federal court-issued injunction to keep copyright-protected music off-line.

It is not clear whether the retooled fee-based Napster will be successful. The filtering technology that is part of the new Napster system, which went live 10 days ago, has greatly reduced the number of available songs.

Napster officials declined to comment on the brief shutdown.

"It's turned out to be 100 percent accurate," said Pat Breslin, president of Relatable LLC, the Alexandria company whose filtering technology Napster is using.

Soon after the system came back up yesterday, some 156,000 people were logged onto Napster, sharing an average of 2.3 files per user. That's down from an average of 1.57 million simultaneous users during the service's peak of popularity in February.

"With little music available now, users continue to drift away," said Matt Bailey, an analyst with Webnoize, a Cambridge., Mass., digital entertainment researcher.

Napster is being sued for copyright infringement by the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the top five record labels. It was ordered March 6 to block any copyrighted files.

As usage drops, resourceful music lovers have wandered to other sites such as Gnutella, MusicCity, LimeWire, ToadNode, BearShare, DJNap, PowerNap and AudioGalaxy where they can still download free tunes.

None of these sites has come close to drawing the 60 million users that Napster attracted in its two-year existence.

"These systems are very difficult to use, it takes a long time to log on, and searching for and downloading music from them is a very long and drawn-out process," said Mr. Bailey, adding that most Napster users have altogether abandoned their search for free music online.

Napster hopes to have its fee-based system up and running later this summer.

The company earlier this year unexpectedly won the funding support of German media giant and record label Bertelsmann AG. It has also been courting technology companies, like Relatable, that can help it block the trading of unauthorized files.

Napster has finally made some headway in winning licensing agreements. MusicNet a joint online subscription music service involving RealNetworks Inc. and three of the top five record labels said in June that Napster could carry its tunes once it begins its fee-based service.

Then last week Napster entered an agreement giving it access to thousands of songs by European musicians signed to independent labels. The deal with the United Kingdom's Association of Independent Music and the Independent Music Companies Association covers artists like Moby, Muse, Tom Jones and Badly Drawn Boy.

Napster still must negotiate for the use of third-party publishing rights, which Mr. Bailey believes could delay a late-summer start.

"It looks extremely unlikely," he said. "I think a lot of it is running out of Napster's hands."

Meanwhile, another plaintiff has joined the top record labels in their copyright-infringement lawsuit against Napster. Centerpointe Research Institute Inc., which sells self-help programs, claims that Napster is improperly letting users download meditation programs and is failing to warn people not to listen to them while driving.

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