In a long-awaited ruling, this afternoon a federal court appeared to deal a lethal blow to Napster, the controversial online music swapping service. While news organizations around the world scrambled to make sense of the complex 58-page ruling, Harvard Law School Professor Jonathan Zittrain offered his legal expertise.

“The appeals court seems to want the district court to find a way to give Napster some rules it can live by,” said Professor Zittrain, a noted cyberlaw expert. “The court is telling Napster to actively police for files whose presence in the system infringes copyright, without having the entire system shut down by fiat since the policing won’t be perfect. And the issue of damages for what may be past infringement enabled by Napster is left to a trial.”

Zittrain is co-director of the Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a leading research center on web trends and technology. This past fall, Professor Zittrain taught Internet and Society: The Technologies and Politics of Control.

“There’ll now be a lot of argument on remand about just what those rules should say, and ultimately Napster will be told how closely it must work with — or for — the music publishers to identify ‘contraband’ music as it is alleged to appear on the Napster directory,” Zittrain added. Zittrain believes that the music publishers’ fight against widespread copying of digital music by fans may be less uphill than many think, thanks to new technologies that can make it simple to pay-per-listen — and hard to hack.

Journalists who would like to speak with Professor Zittrain should contact Mike Rodman in the Law School’s Office of Communications at 617-495-8279.

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