In the latest blow to Napster, the Internet-based music exchange service can no longer allow users to swap copyrighted material over the Internet, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

Napster may continue business as usual until a lower court judge changes the original injunction so that it corresponds with the appellate court’s ruling. The San Francisco appellate court’s ruling does not affect student access to Napster at Yale, where administrators banned access to the online service last April following a lawsuit by heavy metal band Metallica announced April 13.

Napster said in a statement that it would appeal the ruling.

With software allowing the exchange of music files at high speeds and at no cost, Napster rapidly gained popularity among college students nationwide and currently boasts an estimated 50 million users. The appeal court’s decision is a devastating setback for Napster, which was sued by five music industry giants shortly after it made its software available to the public in May 1999.

On the same day of the ruling, Stanford University announced it would limit access to Napster because it occupies too much bandwidth on the university’s servers. Stanford initially refused a written request from recording artists Dr. Dre and Metallica in September asking the university to ban access to Napster on campus.

While the ruling may not encourage colleges nationwide to limit access to Napster, the sustained injunction against the service will be a cause for question among administrators, said Philip Long, director of Yale’s Information Technology Services.

“[The ruling] will cause [universities] to think where they stand,” Long said.

Long added that the ruling does not present any new issues for university Internet services.

“The two issues I see regarding Napster are the same ones [Yale] has been dealing with,” Long said. “The first is the impact on the Internet link and the priority of the Internet link as an educational tool. The second point is copyright infringement.”

The ruling did not surprise computing assistant James Athey ’03.

“[The injunction against Napster] has been destined to happen,” Athey said. “It hasn’t made a difference to me, since nobody’s been able to use [Napster] here. What affected here more was the shut down of Scour.”

Students had been using Scour Exchange, a program that offers the same services as Napster, to receive free music in mp3 format until the company had to shut down its Web site Nov. 16.

At schools still allowing access to Napster, the ruling has yet to have any effect.

“Now on the Internet, it’s easy enough to get free music on other sites,” Boston College freshman Brian Garrett said. “It might not have as much of an effect as [recording companies] think it will. However, [Napster] will be missed.”

Under a pay-for-play agreement with Bertelsmann AG, the parent company of BMG, Napster could stay in business even if it loses its appeal.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.