Devil! Hijacker! Pirate! These are just some of the terms that Time Warner President Richard Parsons associated with Napster at the start of the Plug.In industry conference in New York yesterday, hosted by Jupiter Communications.

Parsons, who will be co-chief operating office of AOL-Time Warner if the pending merger with America Online comes off, spent much of his keynote address blasting Napster, the music file sharing service that counts more than 21 million users.

The Recording Industry Association of America has a lawsuit pending that charges Napster with copyright infringements, unlawful use of digital audio interface devices, and violations of the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act. Time Warner's music unit, Warner Brothers Music Group, is represented by the RIAA.

Napster "undermines our traditional understanding of property and copyright law," Parsons said, because "it lets people widely share copyrighted music without regard for the legal ramifications or paying for its use."

Parsons didn't stop there. He associated Napster with the devil by quoting Saint Thomas Moore, to the effect that once you succumb to the devil, it's hard to stop. Despite his attack, Parsons did allow for some laughter, saying he really didn't mean to call Napster the devil, "it just turned out that way ... in Thomas Moore's quote."

But Parsons did take serious jabs at Napster, saying that "technology has made it child's play to steal music ... but building a business is something for grownups." As soon as Napster, which does not now generate revenue, tries to develop a real business model and make money, it will "have to deal with fundamental copyright issues."

Parson said that adequate protection of copyrighted music, including protection against copying music with technology such as watermarking (which encodes music files so that unauthorised copies can't be made) needs to be in place for online music distribution to grow and be a viable business.