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Napster walks tightrope as users desert service

DESPITE having millions of members and recently forming a strategic alliance with the record companies trying to bring it down, the future of Internet music swapping site Napster may be in doubt.

A survey by online entertainment company Webnoize found file sharing among Napster users has dropped by 90 per cent in the past three months.

And, due to users’ reluctance to pay for music online, Napster is unlikely to see many of these return when the website launches a subscription service later this year.

A US court earlier this year ordered Napster to install filters to prevent the swapping of music under copyright between users. Just 360 million files were downloaded in May, down from 2.79 billion in February.

According to some users of the service, the once popular website is now virtually useless, thanks to the compulsory filters and the failure of the majority of song searches. The Webnoize survey of 3000 users found the average number of files available to swap from hard drives had dropped from 220 in February to just 21 in May.

78 Records manager Geoff Hudson said the decline of Napster hadn’t boosted CD sales in his store and that he wasn’t resentful websites were offering music for free.

“You just have to live with it, you don’t get resentful of the technology, it’s just part and parcel of the way people can get things these days,” he said.

“I suppose it does threaten the very existence of people like ourselves in the long term, though.”

US Judge Marilyn Hall’s ruling against Napster has not stopped committed file swappers from accessing music under copyright. Former Napster users are using similar file-sharing technology, such as Aimster, Gnutella and AudioGalaxy, to swap MP3s.

Matt Simcoe, a computer technician and part-time DJ on weekends, said he used Napster to download song files and burn them onto CDs. After filters were applied to Napster, Mr Simcoe switched to using other websites, such as AudioGalaxy, to share files under copyright. He said he would find another service if AudioGalaxy was closed down by the record industry.

“AudioGalaxy seems to be the best one now, it actually seems to be better than Napster,” Mr Simcoe said.

“It’s easy to use and is web based. It is very hard to catch people out, you can’t tell which MP3 is coming from which computer.”

He said he would not pay a subscription fee to share music files.

Napster has signed a licensing deal with MusicNet – made up of BMG, AOL Time Warner, EMI and RealNetworks – to make music under copyright available for download for a fee. But, like Mr Simcoe, many of the users surveyed by Webnoize said they would not pay to swap music.

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they would continue to share files illegally, with only 21 per cent saying they would use licensed technology.

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