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Play on for now, Napster

Napster escapes a "death sentence" and will probably play on till its case is heard again in September

Napster has won a reprieve. Friday passed off with business as usual, after the midnight deadline to shut down was stayed by a higher court.

The first jugde, whose ruling came on Wednesday, took the side of the music industry, which has sued Napster for allowing free distribution of songs on the Internet. The July 26 order was stayed on Friday, July 28, prompting newspapers even in countries in India, where Napster is relatively unknown, to frontpage the item.

The recording industry is up in arms and says Napster allows users to violate copyrights. A two-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Fransisco ruled Napster could continue for now. Napster's appeal may come up for hearing in September. Its spokesperson had described the first order as "a death sentence".

"I listen to all the latest music on Napster," says a music lover in Delhi. "I don't have to buy anything".

Researching for this story, I tried names like Anu Malik, A R Rahman, Ilaiyaraja and Bhimsen Joshi in the Napster site search, but the effort yielded no files with their music. However, Napster users can find out if these artistes are stored on MP3 files on the hard disks of other users, and then access them. MP3 is a music compression program that allows computer users to copy songs from CDs to this easy-to-exchange format. In fact, MP3 also has been in trouble with music companies, and is settling some of its disputes out of court.

Napster allows its users to share MP3 files. If a music lover in Chennai or Bangalore has loaded an MP3 file of a song, a fellow Napster user can use a search engine and access it in Delhi. This affects the music business, but Napster supporters say it is like friends sharing a tape or CD -- there is no money involved. In its defence, Napster says it is just an Internet service provider which cannot be held responsible for what its members exchange.

An Ohio musician was quoted as saying that the music industry is a mafia: "Too much greed in the world."

Napster was founded in 1999 by a Northeastern University student, and grew at a terrific pace. It has supporters the world over, and more than 60,000 of them signed a protest note after the first court order went against Napster. As the Friday deadline approached, Napster called for a "buy-cott," urging its supporters to show the music industry their power by buying CDs of musicians who have accepted the file-sharing principle.

After the stay was granted, Napster advised its users to keep visiting its site for updates on the case. It also gave a list of e-mail IDs and told its members to write to the major music companies to "tell them you are their best customers -- loyal and active music fans -- and that you don't want them to kill Napster." Amritamati S

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