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Date set for Napster hearing

Day music dies could be as early as next week

Napster's date with destiny is set. The file-swapping frenzy could be over for more than 40 million people because, on 2 March, the final round in the court palaver that will decide its fate will begin.

Napster, in a fight for its existence, will remain open until the court date. A federal judge will hold hearings on an order sought by record labels barring unauthorised songs from being traded over the network, both sides have confirmed.

But public opinion seems firmly with Napster. According to a poll on PC Advisor's website, the public is emphatically in favour of the underdog, with more than 80 percent of voters agains the idea of closing the service.

US District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel yesterday issued a brief order directing attorneys from the popular song-swapping service and the recording industry to appear in a San Francisco court on 2 March.

Patel ordered the closure of Napster last July, but the ruling was postponed two days later so a federal appeals court panel could review it. The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled last week that an injunction was warranted. But it instructed Patel to make modifications.

Lawyers for Napster and the Recording Industry Association of America will have a chance at the hearing to argue exactly what Patel's modified order should include.

Napster has been trying to settle the dispute out of court. On Tuesday, it offered to pay record labels $1bn (nearly £700m) over five years. So far, only one major media company, BMG parent Bertelsmann company, has signed up to the proposal.

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