February 9, 2001 4:45 PM PST

Fans rush to Napster ahead of court ruling

The last-minute rush for free music is on.

Spurred by news that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will finally rule on the future of Napster, music lovers started flocking to the music-swapping service Friday.

"I'm going to download all I can (this weekend)," wrote one user, who goes by the name "Kiyomiwaddle," during a conversation in Napster's chat rooms. Others--except for some who said they had already downloaded close to 1,000 songs from the service--were quick to agree.

Traffic on the servers went up Friday afternoon, with the number of people making their hard drives available to others climbing steadily as the news filtered out. By late Friday, logging on to Napster's service could give access to an average of more than 8,000 people's files on a single server--or more than 1.5 million files--as opposed to more usual numbers near 6,000 people. The company maintains multiple servers to support its file-trading fans.

The company has said it has more than 51 million registered user names, although an unknown number of those are likely duplicates.

It's far from clear that the court is even considering shutting Napster's music-swapping service, although that is one possible outcome.

Judges are deciding whether to uphold a lower court's preliminary injunction from July, which would have barred Napster from allowing most copyrighted music to be swapped using its service. The appellate court could agree with that lower court, or it could let the Napster service continue pending a full trial later this year.

News surrounding the Court: Let Napster music play onservice has already sparked confusion among many Napster lovers. Recent reports from Napster partner Bertelsmann, indicating that a paid subscription service would launch this summer, had some file-swappers wondering how much longer they'll have access to the free Napster regardless of the court's decision.

But some fans noted that independent Napster servers are growing in number, and that even the disappearance of Napster itself wouldn't be the end of the free music movement.

"There will always be free music available on the Net; it's just a case of finding the right site," said a user dubbed "Bumrich." "What's that other site that's similar to Napster?"

"I don't know, but if Napster goes down I will sure as hell find it," responded "Kiyomiwaddle."


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