Napster, the controversial internet music-swapping company, was served with a District Court injunction on Wednesday barring it from colluding in the distribution of copyright material over the internet.

The judgement, delivered on day one of the hearing, surprised both sides which had expected the judge to hear their respective pleas and issue her ruling later in the week.

According to Judge Marilyn Patel, Napster had encouraged users to engage in the "wholesale infringement" of copyright law. The company had done this via technology that allowed users to exchange compressed MP3 music files for free over the internet. These did not pass through Napster's own servers but were routed directly between surfers’ own computers.

Hank Barry, Napster's chief executive officer, was defiant: "We intend to see this through in every venue and in every court," he told listeners in an online broadcast.

The activities of the tiny San Mateo, California, based Napster have incurred powerful enemies in the global music business, among them the Recording Industry Association of America, which applied for the injunction as stage one of a copyright lawsuit. At stake is the issue of who will control online music distribution.

Some Napster users retaliated by recommending alternative music-swapping websites – a tactic which implies that the war over online music sharing may only just have started.

News source: Financial Times