Trade Group Pursues Napster Copycats to Stem Music Pirating


Bolstered by its recent court win over Napster Inc., the Recording Industry Assn. of America is targeting the music-pirating underground, sending out legal notices to halt a slew of Napster copycats.

The record labels’ leading trade group started mailing dozens of cease-and-desist letters this week to Internet service providers, such as Time Warner Cable, whose customers are using high-speed connections to swap copyrighted music.

The letters were specifically aimed at stopping 75 so-called OpenNap servers, which essentially duplicate the controversial Napster service. Instead of being run by a single company, these servers are typically operated by individuals off their home PCs or college computer networks.


Under federal law, an Internet service provider must, after being notified, block access to material that infringes copyrights.

“We knew the RIAA would do something [about OpenNap],” said Chad Boyda, who developed Napigator, a file-sharing tool. “We just didn’t think it would be so soon after the appeal.”

The catalyst for the RIAA’s latest shotgun assault was the Feb. 12 ruling by a federal appeals court in San Francisco, which determined that Napster had violated copyright law by providing the means for users to exchange protected material.

The ruling resoundingly sided with the recording industry, which has long argued that file-swapping services are not immune from copyright laws. Napster on Friday asked for a rehearing before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We have been aware of OpenNap for some time, but did not pursue [the issue] until the decision came down on the Napster case,” said Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and general counsel of the RIAA. “The issues being raised in the OpenNap servers are the same as in the Napster case, so we thought it would be appropriate for the court to rule on the issues first.”

In their letters to Internet service providers, RIAA officials warned that anything resembling Napster was clearly illegal.


“You may be aware that the United States Circuit Court for the 9th Circuit, District of California issued a ruling in [the] RIAA’s lawsuit against Napster,” stated a letter to Time Warner Cable. “We request that you immediately remove or block access to the infringing material.”

The letter also provided a link to the 9th Circuit’s decision on the Web to further emphasize its point. Officials from Time Warner Cable could not be reached for comment.

OpenNap, which has no affiliation with the Redwood City, Calif.-based Napster, is a grass-roots effort by thousands of music fans that essentially piggybacks on the file-swapping service.

The fans have copied Napster’s central directory containing names and locations of computers with millions of music files and have stored them on an informal network of personal computers.

For these fans, it doesn’t matter whether Napster stays in business or shuts its doors; they still have access to mountains of free music files.

Anybody with a reasonably powerful computer and fast Internet connection can run an OpenNap server as a backdoor into the thriving Napster community. In January, an estimated 2.7 billion songs were downloaded on Napster alone, according to the research firm Webnoize.


Going after individual sites has been one of the RIAA’s favorite anti-piracy strategies, going back to the earliest days of the Internet when most fans swapped files by crude methods, such as e-mail.

Such tactics have proven to be strenuous and problematic. A number of file-swapping technologies have cropped up overseas, beyond the reach of U.S. copyright laws.

“We just want to get to the point where the piracy is manageable,” RIAA’s Sherman said, acknowledging the difficulty of the situation.

While technology experts say the RIAA’s piecemeal strategy can work, they point out that the approach is both slow and effective only in the short-term.

“This is a huge game of whack-a-mole,” said Bruce Forest, vice president of media entertainment and communication practice at Sapient Corp. “You shut one down, a dozen more pop up. . . . I don’t see how the RIAA can stop them all.”