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Like cops raiding a late-night litigation dance hall, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday pulled the plug on any further noise by lawyers in the contentious Napster case. Once a high-profile battle predicted to define the boundaries of copyright law for the information age, it has now come to this: The 9th Circuit ordered that lawyers “refrain from filing any further papers in the office of the clerk of this court bearing a caption in any of the [related cases].” The move clears the way for Chief Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to polish off the case, brought by the Recording Industry Association of America and others. In February, the 9th Circuit largely rejected Napster’s appeal of a preliminary injunction against the online music-sharing company. Motions for summary judgment are scheduled for Oct. 15. “Napster, I think, considered the 9th Circuit a more hospitable forum, and this shows they’ve worn out their welcome,” said Jeffrey Knowles, an attorney for National Music Publishers Association. Knowles is a partner at San Francisco’s Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass. Napster had asked that the 9th Circuit stay all district court proceedings. It objected to several rulings by Patel subsequent to the 9th Circuit’s February decision, including the appointment of a technical expert to oversee Napster’s compliance with the court’s orders. Still pending in the 9th Circuit is an appeal alleging Patel’s modified injunction violated the 9th Circuit’s decision in A&M Records v. Napster, 01-15998. However, if Patel grants summary judgment for the record companies and artists who sued Napster and enters a permanent injunction, that appeal will become moot. In fact, the case itself has arguably become moot in the year since it rose to national prominence. Napster, for example, has temporarily suspended file-sharing. The two highest-profile artists in the case, Dr. Dre and Metallica, settled with Napster over the summer. Yet, the peer-to-peer file-sharing boom has spread to other software that does not require files to pass through a central server, and is therefore harder to control through court orders. On Tuesday, seven of the top 11 downloaded programs at CNET enabled file-sharing, and presumably the same sort of copyright violations at issue in Napster. Each was available to be downloaded and used without cost.

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