In ongoing Napster litigation, a federal judge opted yesterday (Oct. 10) not to issue an immediate ruling on whether the file-sharing service is in violation of copyright law. Instead, U.S. District J

In ongoing Napster litigation, a federal judge opted yesterday (Oct. 10) not to issue an immediate ruling on whether the file-sharing service is in violation of copyright law. Instead, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said a third-party representative might be appointed to further investigate issues of ownership, misuse, and the willfulness of Napster's infringement on the copyrights of recordings belonging to the major label groups.

Patel also said that both Napster's representatives and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are welcome to come up with a mutual suggestion within 10 days on who the third-party representative should be.

The decision can be viewed as a small win for Napster, which has argued against a summary judgment on the issue for months. "With the digital music marketplace so early in its development and tens of millions of consumers wanting to access their music over the Internet, it's important that the issues at stake here receive a full airing," Napster general counsel Jonathan Schwartz said.

The file-swapping company has been actively seeking to ink licensing deals with the major labels, including Sony, EMI, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group, as well as its strategic partner, BMG Entertainment. So far, none are willing to sign until Napster proves itself legally operable.

Additionally, the label groups are focusing on their own online initiatives MusicNet and pressplay and are not jumping to license to Napster -- a point that did not go unobserved by Patel.