April 25, 2000 6:00 PM PDT

Rap artist sues Napster, students

Rap artist Dr. Dre sued MP3-swapping firm Napster today, adding a new layer of legal woes to the already besieged company.

But this time, the stakes are being raised: Dr. Dre also is targeting students at universities who are using the Napster software to download MP3 files, putting individual music listeners into the legal line of fire.

It's the second lawsuit filed by musicians who say the controversial software is responsible for massive violations of their copyrights. Heavy metal band Metallica also is seeking to close Napster's digital doors.

Dr. Dre demanded last week that Napster remove his work from its service. But the company refused, saying it could only remove individual users identified as copyright violators.

In response, the artist is asking that the court shut down Napster and award damages of $100,000 per illegally copied work. That could amount to close to $10 million, according to the lawsuit.

"Napster devised and distributes software whose sole purpose is to permit (the company) to profit by abetting and encouraging the pirating of the creative efforts of the world's most admired and successful musical artists," the suit reads.

The young company, started last year by 19-year-old student Shawn Fanning, has thrown the music industry into a kind of panic. Fanning's software allows people to link their computers directly to each other to share their music collections without paying companies or artists for the songs. At any time, thousands of people are online, sharing hundreds of thousands of songs through Napster's directory.

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The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was the first to take legal action, suing Napster late last year. Metallica joined this month but set its legal sights on three universities it said were responsible for their students' illegal use of the software.

But Dr. Dre, whose real name is Andre Young, also trains the specter of legal responsibility directly on the students themselves.

No individual students or universities were named in the version of Dr. Dre's suit filed today. Instead, it is serving as a kind of placeholder, noting that five schools and students will be named later.

That could serve as an effective scare tactic, based on events of the past week. Already the three universities named in Metallica's lawsuits have blocked or sharply restricted use of Napster on their campuses. The threat of any other school or student being added to this new lawsuit could push other universities in the same direction and dissuade students from using the service.

Dr. Dre himself see related story: Napster tests new copyright lawreleased a terse explanation for his legal action. "I don't like people stealing my music," he said in a press release today.

In a coincidence of the courts, Dr. Dre himself was sued for copyright infringement last week. George Lucas' LucasFilm contends that the artist used the trademarked THX sound, which appears before many movies, to open his most recent album, even after being denied permission.

Dr. Dre's suit was filed in a Los Angeles federal court.


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