News that Napster was to be shut down sparked a stampede among MP3 music users looking to stock-up before the threatened injunction's deadline - and has cast the spotlight on other peer-to-peer file-swapping systems.
San Francisco-based District Judge Marilyn Patel last Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction against Napster and in favour of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which sued Napster earlier this year, alleging copyright piracy.
This would have prevented the Napster site from using MP3 files; helping people use the files; and copying the files to which the plaintiffs hold rights. Napster executives said they would have had to close the service down as it cannot filter copyrighted material from that in the public domain.
However, late on Friday, a panel of two appeal judges granted Napster a stay of execution, allowing it to remain in business at least until its appeal is heard, probably in September.
Between Wednesday's decision and Friday's deadline, traffic to the Napster site in the US increased by 71 per cent from 443,000 to 758,000 unique visitors, according to statistics compiled by Nielsen Net Ratings.
Another internet audience-monitoring firm, NetValue, said four times as many files than usual had been downloaded using Napster during this period.
Scour.com, which boasts a Napster-like file exchange feature and is also facing a lawsuit, reported an 80 per cent surge in traffic.
Napster-clone File Navigator reported a tenfold increase in traffic, and Gnutella, an open-source file-sharing system, said it is beefing up to handle hugely increased volumes of traffic.
The increased traffic mirrors reaction to the decision by vnunet.com readers, who support Napster but say its users will simply turn to comparably lesser known alternatives and continue as before.
Some readers expressed fears that Judge Patel's decision would set a precedent banning similar programs that swap material in the public domain, such as shareware.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that major US record labels had considered buying Napster. A report in the New York Times cited an unnamed record industry insider as saying talks failed because the labels could not come up with a viable business model while permitting the wide exchange of content that has made Napster so popular. Some 20 million users are claimed to have downloaded its free file-sharing software.
Music publishers, both in the US and UK, say they have aggressively pursued strategies for distributing music online, and are exploring new business models and working to develop secure technology.
However, they say the need to have secure encryption technology that will prevent their music from being freely exchanged makes the task very difficult, and say that Napster makes online music distribution look easier than it is.
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