HITS Daily Double
"Napster seems to have adopted the most porous filter available... Do they refuse to employ an effective filter for fear that it might actually work?"
——Hilary Rosen, RIAA President


Industry Org Bashes Swapco For "Archaic" Methods In Complaint To Court—Hank Barry Replies: "Is Not, Neither"
It was a day like any other. The sun rose and set. Napster and the RIAA fired off angry press releases.

Charging that Napster's efforts to screen out copyrighted material according to a recent injunction are ineffective, the RIAA has filed papers in U.S. District Court specifying its numerous bones of contention with the popular, but bedraggled netco's methods.

Arguing that Napster's means of filtering unlicensed songs is "archaic" (and seeming to imply that it is intentionally so), the RIAA complaint argues that Napster must either move on to a technologically superior approach or change its entire system to permit only the exchange of licensed music.

"Napster seems to have adopted the most porous filter available," reads a statement from RIAA Prexy Hilary Rosen. "Do they refuse to employ an effective filter for fear that it might actually work?"

The RIAA says technology exists to effectively screen out unlicensed material, including the ability to sniff out the unique content of a file (via a "sound fingerprint" or numerical identifier) rather than its name. Another option, it adds, is for Napster to adopt a "filter-in" system and restrict users to sharing files that have been approved for such a purpose.

Napster's "legal" version—slated for a summer rollout with the blessing of backer Bertelsmann and participating indie labels—could well resemble such a system.

The netco's CEO, Hank Barry, deemed the complaint "an attempt to change the subject rather than cooperate."

"Napster is aggressively complying with the injunction with significant measurable results," begins Barry's anything-but-terse rejoinder. "In the three weeks since the court's injunction was issued, Napster has blocked access to over 275,000 unique songs and over 1.6 million unique file names.

"In addition, with the aid of Gracenote's database, Napster has added over 10,000 variations in artists' names and over 40,000 variations in song titles," Barry's statement adds. "The total number of files available through the Napster index at any one time has dropped by 57% from 370 million to 160 million and the average number of files being shared by users has dropped by almost two thirds form 198 to 74."

Having warmed the reader up like a pat of butter, Barry goes on to assail the RIAA's "complete lack of cooperation" and insists "Effective blocking is an ongoing and iterative process that we take very seriously. 30% of Napster's staff are working full-time on aspects of compliance."

Meanwhile, ardent users of the file-swappery have reportedly been able to track down much of their favorite forbidden music one way or the other, despite the shutting down of such circumvention tools as Aimster's Pig Encoder, which changed file names into Pig Latin (for those not already fluent in Pig Latin).

"Calling this type of filter effective is like calling an umbrella full of holes a hurricane shelter," reads Rosen's fusillade. "It's not working, it never will work and Napster should be ordered to implement an effective filter or change its filtering method."

In the complaint, the RIAA says Napster users can get around filtering merely by searching by either artist or title rather than by both (i.e. by doing less work than would be required to get the system to block the song). The filing also notes that the netco's search engine is better at locating variant spellings of titles than is its filtering mechanism.

Furthermore, the organization asserts, "obvious misspellings" of copyrighted works' titles easily turns up said works.

For its part, Napster has made much of its efforts to comply with the injunction and has in turn faulted rights-holders for not providing sufficient data in their assertions of copyright violation (see story, 3/22). The injunction order places the burden of documenting such violations on the Plaintiffs.

Today's Napster PR echoes previous complaints. It also questions why it didn't hear the elements of today's complaints directly, asks if the RIAA's filing is based on "compliant" notices or not, wonders if the searches in question were done before or after Gracenote's involvement and asks: "Was the data on which their report is based any more accurate than the data they have been sending to Napster?"

Barry and company further charge that the judge in the case, Marilyn Hall Patel, wanted to hire a technical expert to assist in a course of action in this matter—with Napster's blessing—but that the RIAA has moved to "delay" the naming of such an arbiter. The organization dismisses this claim.

The swappery has also gotten grief from independent artists who claim that its filtering mechanisms are removing explicitly approved materials from its search engine. In the midst of appearing to try to please everyone, the netco has also cut deals with Tonos, Gigabeat, StarPolish and others.

With a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and more court dates looming, the war of the filters has largely been a war of the press releases, with folks like us the poor pawns in between. We feel so cheap and dirty.

No, we mean more than usual.