Napster CEO addresses legal issues, future

Napster Inc.’s copyright battle dominated discussion at the recent Internet Law and Policy Forum, indicating that interest in the site’s legal woes stretches across many borders. Legal experts from around the globe attended the San Francisco-held forum, discussing myriad issues surrounding the increasingly complicated Internet economy.

Hank Barry, Napster’s interim chief executive officer, amused a room full of lawyers with a few comical quips during his presentation as part of a panel discussing cross-border copyright and trademark cases. A former professor of Barry’s – Paul Goldstein, a professor of law at Stanford University – also sat on the panel and prompted Barry’s opening jest at the forum.

“I did take copyright from Paul, although I missed the contributory infringement lecture,” Barry joked. “That should be a lesson to all of you to go to class.”

He addressed the legislative issues that arise from peer-to-peer file sharing in comparison to the more traditional client-server model of information exchange. Under the client-server model, a user looks to a server for a particular piece of information. If the data is protected or copyrighted in some way and the server allows the transfer to go through, legal action can be taken against the owner of the server in many cases. In peer-to-peer, however, the server does not actually contain any of the data but rather helps point one user to another user who has the desired file.

The peer-to-peer model adds a new twist to legislative issues and can complicate matters regarding exactly which user or owner of technology might be violating applicable laws, Barry said.

“We need to look at these things on a worldwide basis,” he said, referring to the highly global nature of information exchange.

Also debated at the forum was the question of whether a company in one country could move its servers or other technology to another country in order to avoid litigation. While some discussion arose as to how effective such a strategy would be, panellists said that for the U.S, in particular, such a move would be largely ineffective.

Napster would not consider making a move across borders if the courts require the site to shut down, Barry said in an interview before his presentation. Napster will remain a U.S.-based company, and the vendor will honour whatever the court decides when the trial concludes.

“We will comply no matter what the court’s decision is,” Barry said.

His role as interim CEO could be coming to an end, he said, noting that he expects Napster to announce a new CEO soon. He did not provide an exact date for the appointment announcement or indicate who the new CEO might be.

The surge of attention surrounding Napster in recent months has taken its toll on Barry but has been a positive experience, he said.

“Every day brings a new set of good things and also difficult issues,” he said, confirming that he will direct all of his attention to his position as partner at venture capitalist group Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, following his tenure as interim CEO.

“I am a venture capitalist in the end,” he said.

In other Napster news, the company recently filed a brief in response to the Recording Industry Association of America Inc.’s (RIAA’s) brief, contending that it is protected under the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA). Napster also has said repeatedly that it is virtually impossible to distinguish songs that fall under RIAA member copyrights and those that do not.

“We couldn’t find a way to do that without shutting down the service,” Barry said in the interview.