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Court presses pause button on Napster

A US court has pressed the pause button on Napster, the spectacularly successful music exchange service on the Net. Napster says it will do everything to keep the music industry's hands away from the stop button.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled against Napster on February 13 and asked it to stop exchange of copyright material. Napster has 50 million members who swap song files for free. An outraged music industry has been trying to put the brakes on this music juggernaut, and the latest court ruling is the biggest blow it has dealt to Napster yet.

Napster was set rolling by Shawn Fanning, a college dropout, with a simple-to-use program that allows computer users around the globe to connect to each other and share music files in the mp3 format. About 1.5 million users are logged on to the service at any given time. Webnoize, a website that monitors the digital music industry, said a mind-boggling 250 million songs were downloaded through Napster last weekend.

Thousands of Indian songs are exchanged every day. Besides Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu film numbers, raga renderings by classical music stars like Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj and Kishori Amonkar are also swapped on Napster.

The Indian music scene was similar two decades ago, when cheap cassettes flooded the market, bringing to listeners music they till then bought on more expensive gramophone records. The recording industry was up in arms against the cassette pirates. The difference between then and now is that the pirate was making money, while Napster's service is free and no user makes any money at any point.

Many feel Napster is the music distribution service of the future, making it easy for computer users to get songs of their choice instantly, and without having to buy entire albums on tape or CD. Recording labels may agree to fix a price for each download, and sell music through Napster.

The adverse ruling does not mean that Napster shuts down rightaway. Its site says, "Please keep this is mind: Napster is not shut down, but under this decision it could be. We are very disappointed in this ruling by the three judge panel and will seek appellate review."

Napster says the court ruled on the basis of "what it recognized was an incomplete record before it". It says it will pursue "every avenue in the courts and the (US) Congress to keep Napster operating".

In its response to the ruling, Napster representative Hank Barry said, "We look forward to getting more facts into the record. While we respect the Court's decision, we believe ... that Napster users are not copyright infringers and we will pursue every legal avenue to keep Napster operating".

In recent months, Napster has arrived at a truce with labels like BMG. Napster's site said, "We intend to continue our discussions with the record companies. We have been saying all along that we seek an industry-supported solution that makes payments to artists, songwriters and other rightsholders while preserving the Napster file sharing community experience."

Napster's agreements with two distributors, Edel in Germany and TVT in the US, led to TVT dropping their lawsuit last month.

Napster's defence is that its community is about "love of music". Its members, it says, purchase far more CDs than most people. They share files with no expectation of gain.

Shawn Fanning also went on record saying his company was developing new, "amazing" technologies that Napster would be glad to share with the recording industry.

Meanwhile, the heavy metal group Metallica said it was "delighted" that the court had upheld the artists' right "to protect and control their creative efforts". The group had filed a suit against Napster in April 1999, alleging copyright infringement and racketeering.

Hilary Rosen, president and chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Association of America, was thrilled with the victory.

The RIAA, which represents a host of big music labels, claims Napster could rob them of sales worth billions of dollars.

Napster says its service does not violate any copyright laws, and that it is protected by the Audio Home Recording Act, which allows people to record music for personal use.

The other side takes the line that Napster's service is still illegal because a home computer is not a recording device as defined in the law book.

Discuss the Napster case on the message board

Mandolin wiz makes
movie music

He's the wizkid who took up the Western mandolin and played the graces of south Indian classical music. The child prodigy has grown into a big star, and is now moving into an area he never been in -- movies.

Mandolin U Srinivas will compose the music for a film called Sweatchaa. He had earlier been asked several times to lend his services to the big screen, but had always turned down film offers. The industry's persuasion seems to have worked now.

Srinivas, born on 28 February, 1969, picked up his father's mandolin and started playing some popular tunes when he was six. His father's teacher spotted the boy's talent and started giving him lessons. Srinivas could play the complex graces of traditional music, and soon became a sensation on the concert circuit, drawing crowds of up to 10,000.

Sweatchaa stars Charuhasan, who describes the film as "a good commercial entertainer with a message". The film will have five songs.

Vijayasekhar Reddy, an alumni of the South Indian Film Institute -- Rajnikant and Chiranjeevi also studied there -- is the director.

The story is about two young people who take to crime and are slowly reformed. Charu Hasan plays a retired judge. Shooting began on January 27 at Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad.

Visit Srinivas's site

Musicians' mite for Gujarat
  Amaan and Ayaan: playing in London
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and top British names will play on February 18 to raise funds for Gujarat. The venue is the  Royal Festival Hall.

Amjad Ali Khan will play the sarod with his sons Amaan and Ayaan. The two young sarod players are also well-known as the anchors of Saregama, a popular music programme on Zee TV.

Flutist Chaurasia will play with his disciple Rupak Kulkarni. The concert features a big line-up of musicians, and the gate collections will be donated to earthquake victims in Gujarat.

John McLaughlin, the jazz legend who played the guitar in the fusion band Shakti, is scheduled to play a session with Chaurasia. Shakti was a pioneering fusion band that featured tabla wizard Zakir Hussain, innovative violinist L Shankar and ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram.

The Michael Nyman band will open the evening. Praful Dave, Gujarat's leading folk singer, is also expected to sing.

Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Alla Rakha had similarly played in the US in the '70s to raise funds for victims of the Bangladesh cyclone.

List of quake relief numbers in India

Norwegian-Indian collaboration

Norwegian electronic composer Jorn Lavoll has just put the finishing touches on a piece of music he and classical Indian singer Sandhya Sanjana have collaborated on.

"This is what makes being an Internet artist so exciting," says Jorn Lavoll, who had previously collaborated via the net with musicians from Canada, China and the USA. "This must be the most exciting and rewarding way of creating music," says he.

Sandhya is excited about the world of MP3s. She recently put up some of her work on MP3.com and was "astounded" at the results. Now she has started a project involving web collaborations with some creative minds sitting behind  computers.

Listen to the song Sandhya and Jorn
Visit Jorn Lavoll's home site
Visit Sandhya Sanjana's home site
Visit Sandhya's mp3 page

Grants for art projects

The India Foundation for the Arts is looking for projects it can fund.

IFA, based in Bangalore, offers grants for a broad spectrum of arts projects, covering music, dance, theatre, painting, sculpture, cinema and literature.

Scholars and practising artists can apply for support "to strengthen or interrogate their art". Projects can include research leading to a novel, film or stage production. The project should not take more than two years. IFA grants up to Rs 5 lakh for each project.

The last date for receipt of applications is April 30, 2001. IFA announces grant recepients on or before November 30, 2001.

Among the music-related projects IFA has funded is a study of the evolution and structure of ragas in the Hindustani tradition. "The resulting book enables the development of new compositions in different ragas, and encourages a revaluation of distortions that have crept into their formation and execution," says the IFA's brochure.

Another project compiles the songs of workers from eastern India. It studies music emerging from plantations, mines and factories, and looks at the possibility of treating "this aspect of folk culture as an independent form".

For more details write to: The Executive Director, India Foundation for the Arts, Tharangini, 12th Cross, Rajmahal Vilas Extension, Bangalore 560 080. Tel/fax: 080 331 0584/ 331 0583.

E-mail India Foundation for the Arts

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