Napster survives court ruling

File-swapping service Napster is violating copyright law on several levels, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled on Monday, but Napster doesn't have to shut down...yet.

The unanimous decision, written by Judge Robert Beezer, upholds last August's ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. That court enjoined Napster's service, but the Court of Appeals stayed the injunction while it considered the case. On Monday, a unanimous court found that Napster subscribers violate copyright when they make available music files on their hard drives for on-line swapping. It also found that Napster participates in the infringement inasmuch as the company knows it is occuring. But the court of appeals ultimately called the district court ruling "overbroad," and assigned some of the responsibility to the copyright holders to notify Napster when they learn of copyright violations.

The appeals court on Monday sent the decision back down to the lower court for review, leaving Napster to continue offering its service until a final judgement is reached. Still, the industries involved quickly took sides on the case's outcome, with the recording industry claiming a complete win. "This is a clear victory," said Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. "The court of appeals found that the injunction is not only warranted, but required. And it ruled in our favor on every legal issue presented."

Meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Association said it was "disappointed" with the ruling. "We believe that the Court of Appeals has ignored basic principles of copyright infringement and fair use," said CEA President Gary Shapiro. CEA and other fair-use advocates argue that users have the right to use for free one copy of a copyrighted work.

Technically, the law agrees with CEA, but the courts have yet to sort out exactly how fair-use doctrine applies to file-swapping technologies such as Napster. - Paige Albiniak