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Napster Users Will Swap Files Elsewhere

Music: Fans vow to download songs for free using other tools that are harder for outsiders to track.

February 13, 2001|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Digital pirates, that's what the federal appellate panel reviewing the Napster case labeled the 50 million-plus users of the free song-swapping service in its ruling Monday morning. By the afternoon, many of those users had fired back a response: Napigator ahoy.

Music fans vowed to continue trading copyrighted works online for free using other file-swapping tools, including Napigator, Aimster and Gnutella, all of which make it harder for outsiders--and authorities--to trace which files are being shared with whom.

"The people that are finding music? They're still going to try to find it somehow," said Mark Erickson, operator of the Web site PayLars.com, a poke at Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and the rock band's claim that Napster fans were draining away revenue. "If Napster ends up getting shut down, they'll be ticked off because it's become a great resource."

Indeed, while fans offered some sorrow for the potential loss of the premier sharing site, they suggested it wouldn't make much difference in practical terms.

"Who cares, let Napster die," wrote one user identified as Iparadox, on the Zeropaid.com Web site. "Long live Napigator! Private Napster servers are the way to go!"

"I have been buying overpriced records and CDs for over 20 years or so. Now with the aid of the Internet, it's payback time!" wrote Nigel, another Zeropaid.com poster.

Many experts believe the courtroom victory could backfire on the labels because millions of fans who were engaging in piracy in the relatively plain view of Napster now will head underground and continue trading anonymously.

Aimster, a program that allows users to create smaller, more hidden swap meets that are virtually untraceable, said its software was being downloaded at 10 times the normal rate Monday afternoon, or about 2,000 downloads per hour.

The company last week launched a new version of the software equipped with encryption technology to keep outsiders from tracking files or instant messages between users.

" 'Word of mouth' has turned into 'House on fire!,' " said Johnny Deep, chief of the Albany, N.Y., firm that offers the program. "Consumers are saying with a very loud voice, they've already voted, they want to be able to shop for digital media in the way they've become accustomed to. It's undeniable."

Some fans said Napster had been losing popularity since it announced in October it would become a paid service as part of a partnership with media giant Bertelsmann, one of the five conglomerates that control 90% of the music sold at retailers.

Napster has so far failed to enlist the other four major companies, and the record industry's own efforts to offer music downloads have mostly fallen flat. Critics say the industry-backed effort has consisted of experiments in which the technology is clunky and the prices outrageous.

All of that means the industry is likely to lose displaced Napster users to more dispersed sharing services offering free music. Because Gnutella and other such swap services aren't operated by a company, the record industry is confronted with the possibility of pursuing dozens of Internet service providers and millions of individual users, if it hopes to stamp out piracy.

Moreover, numerous file-swapping services are emerging overseas, beyond the reach of U.S. copyright laws. One, Imesh.com, is based in Israel.

"My question is, how do you prevent the whole revolution?" said Wayno, a San Diego man who said he had purchased albums by Billie Holiday and Kenny Wayne Shepherd after sampling them on Napster. "What's going to stop me from just opening all the files I have on an anonymous site instead? For people like me, I'll just put all my stuff on an anonymous FTP [file transfer protocol] site and the heck with Napster."

*

Times staff writer Jon Healey contributed to this report.

* NO FREE MUSIC

Appeals court delivers devastating blow to Napster. A1

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