There are plenty of potential beneficiaries from
legal entanglement, but few are likely to see those benefits anytime soon because of the uncertainty surrounding online music downloading.
Napster's troubles could help
, for instance. But MP3.com continues its own battles with the recording industry, though it has made much more progress resolving them than has Napster.
Given all of this uncertainty, investors paid little attention to these potential beneficiaries Thursday. MP3.com closed at 10 5/16, off 1/16.
, which makes rights management software for protecting digital content, actually fell sharply, dropping 10.5%, or 1 15/16, to 16 1/2. And the stocks of major recording companies like
showed little interest, with Time Warner rising 1/16 to 77 3/16 and Sony falling 2 3/8 to 94 1/4.
On Wednesday, Napster, which allows users to swap digital music online for free, was ordered to block users' access to copyrighted songs, essentially shutting down the site. The order came from
U.S. District Court
Judge Marilyn Patel, who said Napster supports "wholesale infringement" of copyrighted music. The suit was brought by the
Recording Industry Association of America
, which complained about what it sees as piracy of copyrighted music. Napster filed Thursday for an emergency stay of the injunction, which goes into effect at midnight Pacific time Friday.
If Napster ultimately loses, MP3.com, which also offers downloadable music, could be rid of one competitor. It is already working to strike closer ties with the recording industry, having settled two of the five suits against it, which also dealt with copyright issues. (
wrote about MP3.com's efforts on this front.)
"MP3 may not be seen as a friend to the industry at the moment, but they are certainly seen as much less of a threat ... than the Napsters of the world," says Kris Tuttle, an analyst for
who rates the stock a buy. (Wit SoundView hasn't performed underwriting for MP3.com.)
But for now, the Napster decision could knock the wind out of MP3.com, Tuttle says, since it reaffirms copyright holders' power over the online music providers.
MP3.com's stock already has suffered, losing about half of its value since mid-June thanks to its own legal battles. Investors are reluctant to buy the stock without full knowledge of the company's prospects, says David Bench, an analyst with
Arnhold & S. Bleichroeder
, which hasn't performed underwriting for MP3.com.
InterTrust also is suffering from the uncertainty. Tuttle, who rates InterTrust a strong buy, says the fact that its stock continued its downward trend after the Napster ruling means investors were saying one thing: "I don't care about online music until it's real, and obviously it's not going to be real for a while." (There also may have been worries Thursday about InterTrust's second-quarter results, which were reported after the close. The company met Wall Street's estimates, reporting a second-quarter loss of $10.8 million, or 13 cents a share, compared to a year-ago loss of $6.2 million, or 19 cents a share. Wit Soundview has done underwriting for InterTrust.)
The lack of clarity also meant that there wasn't much bullish stock movement for the record industry either. "I think most people recognize that it is inevitable that all this stuff is going to be online, legally or illegally," says Tuttle, and record labels are under increasing pressure to come up with their own solutions.
There also has been "statistically valid" evidence that Napster doesn't necessarily hurt music labels, Tuttle says. Instead, people often use the site to sample music and then end up buying it.
In addition, the big recording companies are housed within even bigger companies, which would dilute the potential positive impact of the Napster decision. "I don't necessarily think that investors are looking at Time Warner for this particular issue," says Tuttle, who rates the company a buy. (Wit SoundView hasn't performed underwriting for Time Warner.)