SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Napster's deal with one of five record labels suing it for copyright infringement could help the music-swapping service wriggle out of its legal straitjacket, but it remains unclear how the new partnership will work.
Also uncertain is whether Napster can turn a revolutionary free service into a profitable endeavor without alienating its 38 million users.
Under a deal announced Tuesday, Bertelsmann's BMG music division said it was teaming with the Internet service to develop a secure, membership-based music distribution system that will guarantee payments to artists.
Left unresolved is how much a membership service would cost and how Napster would begin to charge users for something it's been giving away.
And "how are they going to take the existing Napster environment and make it secure?" asked Ron van Zuylen, a California computer engineer and Napster user. "A peer-to-peer environment, just by design, is not secure. I'm not very confident that this will work."
Under the deal, Napster gains the BMG catalog, including artists such as Christina Aguilera and Carlos Santana. But it's likely those songs will contain technology to prevent them from being swapped for free.
A clear upside of the deal for Napster is that there will be one less record company in the industry's lawsuit.
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