A judge in the US has effectively ordered that music-swapping site Napster be closed down.
Judge Marilyn Hall Patel yesterday issued a preliminary injunction against Napster and in favour of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which sued Napster earlier this year, alleging music piracy.
The judge said that the music swapping service must cease the trading of copyright material - an action which Napster says is impossible to enforce and will compel it to shut down.
The fact that the San Francisco-based judge issued the injunction, which will stay in force until the trial later this year, shows that she believes there is a possibility that Napster will lose the case.
However, just in case Napster should prevail at the trial, Judge Patel ordered the RIAA to post a $5m bond to compensate Napster for lost business.
The injunction comes into effect at midnight on Friday Pacific Time.
After hearing both sides argue their respective cases, the judge listed illegal uses for Napster's technology which must now be stopped under the terms of the preliminary injunction. They are: using MP3 files, helping people use the files, and copying the files to which the plaintiffs hold rights. "Napster is enjoined from doing the acts I've just described," said Judge Patel.
Napster representatives said that by disbarring those services, the judge has all but closed down the site and it probably will not continue.
Throughout the hearing Judge Patel showed little sympathy with Napster's arguments.
In its defence, Napster tried to lay the blame with the companies that created MP3 technology. Its lawyers said Napster had merely taken advantage of the technology's availability.
Judge Patel replied that Napster had not seemed to try as hard as it could to identify people pirating material. More damning, she added, was the company's provision of software and a search engine as a means to enable music distribution. "It's kind of like becoming an orphan by your own hand and then asking the court for help," she said.
Napster's lead lawyer was David Boies, who worked for the US Department of Justice in its antitrust trial against Microsoft. His arguments that Napster was protected because the courts had previously ruled that companies making copying devices were not liable for copyright infringement did not sway the judge.
Judge Patel said Napster was not a device but a technology.
She was swayed to issue an immediate injunction by the RIAA, which said that 3.6 billion music files could be downloaded in the six months before the trial.
Boies said after the court case Napster would appeal the injunction as soon as possible.
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