If the Recording Industry Association of America's contributory copyright violation case goes against Napster, the MP3 sharing software company would be in real trouble when damages are assessed.
According to Net market researcher Webnoize, in September alone, there were 1.39 billion downloads made via Napster.
Webnoize says it used packet sniffing software to track songs shared using Napster's 114 servers over an "extended period of days... including weekdays and weekends". In other words, it didn't monitor the service day in, day out, but averaged the usage stats out over the whole month.
The total number of downloads comes from the total number of Napster users and the number of files available, so Webnoize didn't uncover the 1.39 billion downloads statistic directly. Even so, with an average of 640,000 Napster users online at any given time, a significant number of songs will have been downloaded.
Now, as MP3.com found to its cost, US copyright law imposes anything up to $25,000 per illegally copied song. That could leave Napster facing a bill of up to $4170 trillion - and that's for September alone.
Of course, not all the traded songs will have been from music whose copyright have not given permission, and Napster would probably argue that Webnoize's figure is way too high. And since that kind of fine would bankrupt countries, let alone companies, it's unlikely to ever be imposed.
Webnoize's numbers come on the back of recent research from Forrester that claims Napster and similar services will cost the music industry $3.1 billion in lost revenue, "regardless of whether Napster is right or wrong".
For its part Webnoize notes that "the significance of our findings is that, regardless of whether the legal system decides that Napster operates illegally, demand for its service is staggering". ®