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Napster gets new chief

German will try to steer firm toward legitimacy

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SAN FRANCISCO — Napster Inc. is replacing interim chief executive Hank Barry with a German media executive who will try to steer the song-swapping company out of its renegade past into a legitimate subscription service that requires fans to pay for online music.

Konrad Hilbers, a veteran of the German media giant Bertelsmann AG, most recently served as executive vice president and chief administrative officer of the conglomerate's music arm. Bertelsmann became Napster's primary financial backer last October.

Barry, a lawyer who came to Napster from the venture capital firm Hummer Winblad and has led the company since May 2000, will stay with Napster on its board of directors, the company said Tuesday.

In an interview, Barry said he initially misjudged the potential of Napster, but his opinion of the company grew along with the number of Napster users.

"What I didn't realize early on was the power that this file-sharing model has in terms of people really liking it," Barry said. "Very quickly I learned that people actually like having other people hit their hard drive and they actually like being part of that community. That was a big surprise for me."

The added element of controversy was simply came with the territory as Napster upended the music industry, he added.

"I think that the controversy part really goes along with the popularity. I don't think we would be as controversial if we weren't as popular," Barry said.

Hilbers inherits leadership of a company looking to resolve copyright infringement lawsuits brought by the major record labels. It plans to convert to a subscription music download service later this summer.

Napster's song trading network has been offline since July 2, when its effort to make a quick fix and strengthen its ability to filter out copyright music turned into extended downtime.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, who crafted the initial injunction that forced Napster to closely police its system for pirated music, told the company to remain offline unless it could offer a foolproof service able to screen out every single unauthorized song.

An appellate court allowed Napster to resume song-swapping last week, but the company has yet to restore service.

Hilbers would not say when Napster would be relaunched.