May 1, 2000 12:10 PM PDT

Rapper Chuck D throws weight behind Napster

A few prominent musicians are beginning to rally around MP3-swapping company Napster, which faces a potentially crippling series of lawsuits from the recording industry and some artists.

Rapper Chuck D, who has long been one of the industry's most outspoken proponents of MP3 music, said today that he is hosting a song-writing contest on his Web site, aimed at highlighting how Napster can help musicians.

"We want to draw attention to the positive aspects that Napster has to offer artists," Chuck D said in a statement. "They need to realize that they can benefit infinitely from what it has to offer."

The news comes a week after Napster said it would sponsor a free tour by hard rock group Limp Bizkit. The tour is estimated to cost around $1.8 million--a hefty price tag for a company that has announced just $2 million in venture funding to date.

Napster, which allows thousands of Internet subscribers at a time to link their computers and easily share hundreds of thousands of copyrighted MP3 music files, has thrown the recording industry back to the defensive at a time when it was beginning--if slowly--to move pieces of its business online.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster late last year, contending that its software allowed widespread online piracy. In recent weeks, musicians Metallica and Dr. Dre have filed their own suits against the company and university students who use the software, saying that swapping their works without pay is the equivalent of theft.

Chuck D is quickly taking on the same role for Napster that he played in the early days of the MP3 debates. The rapper left his longtime record label after disputes regarding digital distribution and has since been a prominent advocate of artists' ability to release music online independently and retain control of their careers.

"We should think of (Napster) as a new kind of radio--a promotional tool that can help artists who don't have the opportunity to get their music played on mainstream radio or on MTV," Chuck D wrote in an opinion article published in The New York Times this weekend.

A federal judge is expected to make a preliminary ruling in the record industry's suit against Napster any day.


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