Downloading MP3s through the popular file-sharing application Napster has become more difficult in recent months. The company”s engineers have been persistently implementing digital filters and song identification technologies, sending fans scurrying for their favorite songs like rats in a maze. The number of users has decreased considerably, according to Napster”s third consolidated report of compliance.

“As we continue to comply with the (U.S.) District Court”s (for the Northern District of California) injunction, some searches are not returning results and many files are not being shared,” Napster said in a written statement. Napster has been ordered to block searches of its index whenever searches correspond to the names of copyright infringing material.

“Napster”s filters are constantly being changed to more effectively exclude music the copyright holders want blocked, and that frequently results in other music being excluded as well,” the statement said.

University students exhibit a genuine discontent with Napster”s transformation from a once thriving music-trading venue to a desolate wasteland of lost digital music.

“Typing in common search titles and not being able to find anything at all has caused me to log off,” LSA senior Robert Shereda said. “I just can”t find the music I am looking for.”

Despite the fact that Napster has fallen in the eyes of its faithful public, numerous peer-to-peer clones have spawned and are taking the file-sharing arena by storm.

Although no alternative file-sharing service has risen to the wild popularity of Napster with its once 50 million user base many are experiencing impressive figures.

According to Vulcan Ventures and CNET Networks, Inc., Gnutella, MyNapster, WinMX and Music City”s Morpheus are among some of the most popular and frequently downloaded file-sharing services available today.

Each service possesses its own unique nuances, but all offer a similar “Napster-like” experience.

“People are searching around for the best one,” said Jarvis Mak, senior Internet analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings. “They haven”t found one as easy to use and as successful as Napster yet, but obviously they are looking.”

Shereda said he has searched for an alternative means of gathering music.

“I have tried three different music-sharing services,” Shereda said. “Audiogalaxy seems to work pretty well. I downloaded BearShare and tried Morpheus this afternoon.”

Although a significant number of services are penetrating the file-sharing market, Napster glances over its shoulder and looks to the future with the possibility of establishing a profitable business model.

Napster has officially licensed its service to MusicNet a joint venture of RealNetworks, AOL Time Warner Inc., Bertelsmann AG and EMI Group.

MusicNet is the world”s first digital distribution platform for downloading and streaming music.

According to a recent press release issued by MusicNet, three of the world”s largest record companies Warner Music Group, BMG Entertainment and EMI Recorded Music will permit their content to be delivered to Napster as long as Napster is operating in a legal, non-infringing manner.

Napster users are apprehensive about paying a subscription fee when free music-sharing alternatives are readily available.

“People can always find a way around it. There will always be a free way to do it. They have to offer popular enough artists and not charge an extraordinary amount of money,” Shereda said.

The MusicNet subscription service is scheduled for release later this summer.

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