Subscribe for 17¢ / day


Napster is hurting. Just ask any longtime Napster user.

Since a federal judge ordered Napster to comply with the demands of major record labels, which wanted copyrighted material blocked from Napster, the company just isn’t what it used to be.

In early July, visitors to the site got a notice saying the service is “temporarily suspended.” And this week, a federal judge demanded that Napster remain off-line until it fully complies with the injunction to remove all copyrighted music.

Users of the popular music-sharing program once were able to type in an artist’s or song’s name and an instant later have a long list of songs on the computer screen.

After the record labels’ successful suit, users received a message saying, “No matching files found.” Then the suspension notice was posted.Blocking access to musicSince March, Napster had been blocking the songs with software that recognizes the song by the words of the title or artist. This method of screening led to the widespread intentional misspelling of song titles in order to elude the filters. The software cannot detect the song if it is incorrectly spelled.

Dustin Pugh, a sophomore at Billings Senior High, says he sees nothing wrong with Napster’s now discredited downloading filters. But the record labels do, and they have been pressuring Napster to develop a better screening method.

As a result, Napster recently announced a new filtering system called sound fingerprinting, which identifies a song by sound rather than title. The developer is Virginia-based Relatable LLC.

Brian Hammerquist, a junior at Senior High, says of the new technology: “It will be a success up to a point, but people will always find a way around it.”

And, to the dismay of many users, Napster has said it will eventually switch to a subscription-based service. Napster has not set a date or rates for the pay service.Pay to playNapster recently began offering members the chance to preview the subscription-based service on the program’s home page.

Earlier this year, Napster teamed up with the record label BMG. The company dropped its suit against Napster. It even offered Napster financial support in the early, undoubtedly rocky, days of a subscription-based service.

Hammerquist views the partnership as positive and believes that it will “help verify that they’re a valid company.” He also hopes that it will encourage other companies to do the same.

The biggest factor in the subscription-based service is, of course, the cost. Napster could lose many users who refuse to pay for the previously free service.

Hammerquist says he’s willing to pay up to $20 a month for Napster. But, he says: “If they still screen songs and have a fee, they cannot survive.”

Unfortunately for Napster, many users have already left or are leaving because of the limitations of song screening and fear of a subscription-based service. They are flocking to other sites similar to Napster, such as Audio Galaxy or Song Spy.

Napster is still the best-known program of its kind. “Napster is as good as it gets.” Pugh says. “If anything gets that close, they will probably try and shut that down too.”John Kemmick will be a junior at Billings Senior High School this fall.