EMusic to Track Napster Users

Online subscription music service EMusic unveiled a new initiative on Tuesday that it said will “prevent the illegal distribution of EMusic songs” by users of Napster’s controversial music file-swapping service.

Using “acoustic fingerprinting,” Redwood City, California-based EMusic will identify songs on Napster that originated from EMusic and identify the Napster user who is distributing the infringing songs.

Once discovered, the user will receive an instant message from EMusic with notice of the alleged copyright infringement and be given 24 hours to stop distributing the track. If the user continues to make the track available after the grace period, EMusic said that it will contact Napster and ask that the user’s account be blocked.

Failed Negotiations

Acknowledging that the solution may not be the most “elegant,” EMusic said that it had discussed other alternatives with Napster prior to taking this step and met with resistance.

“Over the past several months, EMusic has continually offered to work in good faith with Napster on this issue,” said EMusic president and chief executive officer Gene Hoffman. “We have proposed a number of viable solutions — including detailing to Napster a fairly simple technology that would effectively block the unauthorized sharing of our music files without disrupting Napster users’ accounts.”

Hoffman added, “Napster’s unfortunate and inflexible response has been that EMusic’s only course of action is to request that offending users’ accounts be cut off completely. Although we feel that Napster could easily implement a more consumer-friendly solution, we will begin supplying this information on an ongoing basis.”

The EMusic roster includes Elvis Costello and They Might Be Giants.

Courting Subscribers

EMusic reportedly has not ruled out a lawsuit against Napster, but said it would rather work out an amicable solution with the company. Such a solution could include paying Napster for driving subscribers to EMusic.

Napster has been sued by world’s five largest record labels — Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, BMG, Warner Music and EMI Group — who claim that Napster’s service violates copyright laws.

With Napster’s software, users are able to search and download music files from other people’s computers, even though many of the songs are protected by copyright.

Napster Chimes In

Napster chief executive Hank Barry said in published reports that the company had reviewed a proposal by EMusic last week, but that “EMusic’s announcement today is different than what they had proposed to us previously.”

Barry added that based on last week’s review, Napster does not believe that EMusic’s approach is consistent with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Napster also questioned whether the approach was technologically feasible.

Even so, Napster will reportedly review EMusic’s current proposal “to determine if it is consistent with Napster’s privacy policy.”

EMusic’s Reprise

EMusic’s Hoffman countered Napster’s comments by saying, “Napster would rather shut down user accounts than deal directly with the problem of illegal distribution of files.”

Hoffman added, “Our proposed solution deals with illegal activity only, allowing the exchange of legitimate files. However, EMusic remains open to the possibility of working with Napster to implement a more reasonable approach to solving the problem.”

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