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The recording industry’s suit against Internet song-swapping service Napster Inc. was put on hold for a month after requests from both sides while they seek a possible settlement. A federal judge’s order, made public Wednesday, puts the record labels’ entire copyright infringement suit against Napster on hold until Feb. 17. Only Capitol Records Inc. and Virgin Records America Inc. didn’t join in the request to U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the Northern District of California. Napster chief executive Konrad Hilbers said he’s confident the legal downtime will lead to an accord with the labels. In February 2001, Napster made a highly publicized $1 billion offer to settle the case if the major labels would license their catalogs to the Redwood City, Calif.-based company. The record labels rejected the offer. The recording industry sued Napster in 1999 after millions of people began to share unauthorized digital copies of popular music over the Internet using Napster’s service. Napster, which claimed more than 40 million users in its heyday, went offline last July as it sought to comply with Patel’s earlier order that it screen the unauthorized files from its network. Now financed by the parent company of the BMG record label, it plans to relaunch as a paid subscription service with only properly licensed music to be shared among users. A settlement would serve both sides well, said Raymond James & Associates analyst Phil Leigh. “I think the record labels think that they’ve put Napster through a rehabilitation program. They’re going to let Napster return to society with a leash,” he said. Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, sees room for stronger settlement negotiations now that Napster has changed its stripes and eliminated unauthorized file-sharing. “Since re-launching a few weeks ago, we understand they have limited their repertoire to licensed music. Resolving the lawsuit may now be feasible,” Rosen said Wednesday in a statement. Since it went offline, many Napster users have migrated to other free services such as Morpheus, KaZaA and various programs that access the Gnutella network, an ever-changing web of users connected over the Internet with no central computer server nor any company at the helm to sue. The KaZaA service was offline briefly last week while it sought to comply with a similar order to remove infringing files from its service. The company’s core technology was sold to an Australian firm which again has the file-swapping service up and running. The recording industry case is A&M Records Inc. v. Napster Inc. 99-5183. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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