Napster in talks with Microsoft on secure Web

MP3 music file downloads on the Napster service dropped 36 per cent in April compared to March, according to Internet research firm Webnoize. The filters required by a federal court order have reduced the average number of songs shared by the Napster service to 37, from 220 in March, according to the Webnoize report. Use has consistently dropped since song blocking was implemented. Users downloaded 1.59 billion files in April, down from 2.49 billion in March and 2.79 billion in February.

Microsoft produces the Windows Audio sound file format, which protects music distributors from unauthorised file copying. The two companies have been talking for weeks about a deal, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday, citing sources close to Napster. Microsoft rejected an overture to buy Napster, and discussions now revolve around a licensing deal or equity stake in trade for Microsoft's security technology, according to the Times.

Napster's public relations agency released a statement Friday, confirming their talks. "Napster has been talking with Microsoft, along with a number of other technology companies, about how several of their products might be incorporated into the new Napster service. Those conversations are ongoing," Napster said.

A Napster spokesman said if any talk of a Microsoft buyout had been on the table before, it isn't now. A Microsoft executive refused to comment about the talks, or to confirm that talks were going on at all, beyond saying that Microsoft is in talks with several companies about their technology.

"The next generation peer-to-peer networks are interested in using our digital rights technology," said Jonathan Usher, group manager for the Windows digital media division at Microsoft.

The Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) filed suit against Napster last year, seeking an injunction and damages against the service for copyright infringement. US District Court judge Marilyn Hall Patel ordered Napster to begin filtering songs that are copyrighted off the service in March, and has since admonished the company for failing to effectively protect the copyright of music labels.

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