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NetPD Wants To Be Web's Police Department
Amy Doan,, 05.05.00, 6:15 PM ET

Bruce Ward sure knows a good public relations opportunity when he sees it. The 23-year-old is chief technology officer of NetPD, a ten-person consulting firm in Cambridge, England. It may be tiny, but it will soon be popping up on plenty of music industry Rolodexes.

Rock group Metallica used NetPD's technology to identify the fans who've been trading Metallica MP3 songs without payment for months via the music-swapping program Napster. Metallica hand delivered 335,435 Napster user names to the startup's San Mateo, Calif., office on May 3. (For added effect, it handed the names over on 60,000 pages of paper instead of simply using a few floppy disks.)

Now it looks like NetPD could get more mileage out of the controversy than either Metallica or Napster. It's got anti-Napster record labels and artists interested and Napster users worried that they may get thrown in the clink for the casual act of downloading music. It's also got mystery in its favor--a cynical group of music lovers has even expressed doubt that NetPD actually exists.

Typical messages in Metallica and MP3 newsgroups include: "Who is this NetPD?" and "Has anyone actually checked that this is a real company?" Not to disappoint those with a dramatic streak, but NetPD does exist.

"We've set up with the intention of offering copyright protection services to not just the music industry, but the videogame and movie businesses," says Ward, who worked at "a few unknown software companies" before starting NetPD last year.

Ward, who is American born, contacted Metallica several weeks ago to offer NetPD's services, which use artificial intelligence to track file-sharing activity across the Internet.

He has not provided details beyond the fact that NetPD's software "works like 5,000 humans sitting in a room doing Web searches" to identify thousands of user names very quickly. He insists that to say more would enable Napster and other MP3 programs to block the software.

Ward said NetPD has since approached several bands and record labels including Sony Music sne (nyse: sne - news - people). It is "hiring like mad" to ready itself for the launch of this month and the company's official launch this summer. (NetPD is not affiliated with the American company XemiComputers, which has a shareware product called NetPD).

"We're going from 10 employees to more than 50 employees," says Ward.

"The interest has been enormous."

NetPD will find plenty of music industry executives interested in retaining its services, since until now they've had little option but to wait for the courts to decide if programs like Napster violate copyright laws. The individual fans who've been "outed" by NetPD are unlikely to face lawsuits, but Napster says that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it is required to disable their access to the program.

Ward isn't going to make many friends among Napster addicts, but he says he doesn't care. He's been so bold as to register the address

"We fully expect to upset people and our site will probably get hacked," he says. "But what's going on is theft."

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