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Napster: The house that Fanning built

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(CNN) -- The music and downloading continue, but the selection of songs on Napster is getting smaller.

A federal court injunction issued this past week requires the music swapping service to block copyrighted songs. And there's a deadline -- 72 hours after getting lists of titles from record companies.

"What we'll find is that next week some of the music is gone," says Eric Scheirer, an industry analyst for Forrester Research. "The week after that, even more is gone. And over the coming weeks and months, the music is gradually less and less appealing to music lovers."

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But it's not a failsafe plan, because Napster's screening system relies on accurate computer file names.

"When the record industry is identifying particular pieces of music on Napster, they're pointing to specific files and where they see a file name," Scheirer says. "But clever users of Napster are doing things like writing the name backwards or putting it in code."

Of course, if file names change, that will make it harder for Napster users to find what they want. And if its 60 million users get frustrated, what will become of Napster?

"I think Napster is probably on its deathbed unless the music industry plaintiffs decide that it's worthwhile to settle with Napster," says Doug Isenberg, an Internet legal expert.

The big record labels just may be inclined to settle because there are other similar file-sharing systems, like Gnutella and Freenet, to take Napster's place.

"Even if Napster goes away, file-swapping on the Internet will not go away," Isenberg says. "So the base of 50 to 60 million users, and because Napster has a significant brand recognition, the music industry may ultimately decide that this is the industry player that we need to do business with."

Some say Napster could thrive alone, perhaps, on obscure music or groups just getting started. Even before the lawsuit, the company was under the gun to find ways to start generating income. Now, a court is adding even more pressure.

"Napster has always been a questionable business. They've never been a business making money," Scheirer says. "So what this really puts doubt on is whether they're ever going to be a service that makes any money or at some point they're just going to quietly fade away into Internet oblivion."



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