HITS Daily Double
When it comes to digital glamour, there’s no more blinding brand than Napster—whether it’s the old, embattled bete noir or the sparkling, sanitized, safe-for-the-kiddies incarnation.


Updates on the Napster Suit and Roxio Rebirth, P2P Legislation and MusicMatch’s Service Plan
The world of online music couldn’t be more glamorous. The lawsuits. The press releases. The glowing predictions of imminent market domination.

And when it comes to digital glamour, there’s no more blinding brand than Napster—whether it’s the old, embattled bete noir or the sparkling, sanitized, safe-for-the-kiddies incarnation. As it happens, both versions are in the news this week.

According to a Reuters report, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that Bertelsmann couldn’t be served, for the time being, with litigation filed stateside by UMG, EMI and various music publishers. The suit charges Bertelsmann with aiding piracy by funding Napster in a purported effort to rehabilitate the once-popular peer-to-peer service.

"If lawsuits in [foreign] courts are obviously misused to bend a market player to one’s will by way of media pressure and the risk of a court order, this could violate the German constitution," the court ruled, putting off the delivery of the suit for six months, at which time it will undergo further review.

However, Reuters adds, Bertelsmann’s previous attempt to have the legal action dismissed in U.S. court may undercut the impact of the German court’s finding.

Evidence presented in the charge against Bertelsmann has a company "Task Force" acknowledging the necessity of preserving Napster in its unregulated, mass-infringing form in order to maintain a user base long enough for a legit version to launch.

Of course, Bertie’s "synergy" mastermind, Thomas Middelhoff, was subsequently booted from the firm, and the shuttered Napster—itself crippled by rights-holders’ litigation—was sold for parts to CD-burning concern Roxio.

The latter, in tandem with the folks who brought you big-label-backed venture pressplay, is preparing the debut of a new "Napster" that will bear a stronger resemblance to pressplay than the Napster that users once knew. We’re talking no sharing. We’re talking licensed tracks only. We’re talking a la carte downloads. But with Apple’s iTunes having earned a few ducats for shell-shocked majors, that model’s got a bit more cred nowadays.

"Napster 2.0 has been built from the ground up to reflect the values of the original Napster brand, which is really all about independence, innovation and consumer choice," Roxio CEO Chris Gorog told the L.A. Times.

Still, slapping that brand on top of a retooled pressplay strikes some in the digital space as akin to putting the chassis of a Mustang on top of a Pinto’s engine.

Speaking of legit services, MusicMatch—which makes the PC software for Apple’s popular iPod portable digital-music player—announced at the Plug.IN digital music conference in New York that it has deals in place for catalog from BMG, EMI, UMG, Hollywood, Roadrunner, Rounder, Sanctuary, TVT and Lyric Street Records, for use in its own a la carte service. Albums and tracks will be offered for sale, and users will be able to listen to them on their desktops, burn them to CD or transfer them to portables.

"We decided years ago not to provide music downloads until we could offer them in a way that would be truly compelling to consumers," declared CEO Dennis Mudd. "We can now provide the download service we envisioned and are excited to team with the music industry in this next phase of digital music commerce."

Numerous digital-music ventures are rushing to stake their claim as the online leader for PC downloads, as Apple’s service will not debut for Windows users until late this year. Upstart BuyMusic.com, with its ambiguous slogan "get loaded," recently unleashed a splashy, multimedia ad campaign.

The industry hopes that a raft of new for-pay services will counterbalance its legal assault on unauthorized file-sharing. This is especially vital given the drubbing the biz has taken in the mainstream press for its decision to go after individual swappers in court.

Still, the latter effort may get a boost from a bill introduced in Congress by Reps. Pitts (R-PA) and John (D-LA) that would require P2P systems to deny underage users access without their parents consent.

Though ostensibly designed to shield kids from online porn—and a lot of really top-drawer hardcore stuff can be downloaded via P2P, or so we hear—the bill, if it became law, could allow right-holders to target parents of minors who share mass amounts of copyrighted material.

A CNET report says the bill’s sponsors claim as much as 40% of swapped files are pornography. Wonder who did the research to figure that out.