The battle over music copyright infringement on the Internet took a dramatic turn Wednesday, when Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich personally presented Napster with the names of approximately 300,000 users who have allegedly been trading the band’s songs online without permission.
Through its attorney, Metallica demanded that Napster refuse service to all of the individuals on the list, claiming that the users have effectively stolen the music.
“If they want to steal Metallica’s music, instead of hiding behind their computers in their bedrooms and dorm rooms, then just go down to Tower Records and grab them off the shelves,” Ulrich said.
Metallica filed suit against Napster last month in U.S. District court, charging the company with encouraging piracy and allowing its users to trade copyrighted songs through its servers.
Schools Off the Hook
The original action also named the University of Southern California (USC), Yale University and Indiana University.
However, Yale University and Indiana University responded by blocking students’ access to Napster, while USC announced that it would allow students to access Napster “only for demonstrably legal purposes from designated university personal computers and under university supervision.”
Metallica responded by dropping the suits against the schools.
Napster May Concede to Demands
Napster said late Wednesday that it may comply with the band’s demands. In a statement, 19 year-old founder Shawn Fanning said, “I’m a huge Metallica fan and therefore really sorry that they’re going in this direction. If we got the opportunity to explain to the band why Napster exists and why fans enjoy Napster, perhaps we could bring all of this to a peaceful conclusion.”
Napster’s software allows users to search for songs stored online in the popular MP3 format and download them directly from one another’s hard drives. Napster has maintained its innocence in the copyright infringement issue, claiming it is not legally at fault because it does not directly provide the copyrighted music.
Riding Coattails of MP3 Ruling
Metallica’s case received a boost last Friday, when online rival MP3.com was found guilty of copyright infringement in a suit filed in U.S. District Court by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA).
A similar RIAA suit against Napster is pending, as well as one by rap artist Dr. Dre.
Still, the negative buzz generated by Metallica’s actions against the online music swap service has much to do with the band’s long history and strong standing in the recording industry.
In an appeal to its fans, Metallica posted a statement on its Web site, which said in part, “Why should music be free, when it costs artists money to record and produce it? No other occupation provides its services for free that we know of.”
In an effort to explain the larger issues at hand, Metallica said, “We are suing now because we wanted to create an open discussion about the value of music before it was too late. We felt that Napster was taking it out of the artists’ hands.”
At risk for the Metallica is the loyalty of fans who have supported the band for many years. In taking the action yesterday, Metallica was clear in its intent: “We are going after Napster, the main artery,” said Metallica singer and guitarist James Hatfield. “We are not going after individual fans. Metallica has always felt fans are family.”
RIAA Ruling Critical
Meanwhile, Metallica is anxiously awaiting the ruling in the RIAA’s case against Napster. That suit seeks an injunction against Napster and statutory damages ranging from $500 to $100,000 (US$) per song for those it claims were pirated. Legal experts have said damages in both the MP3.com and Napster cases could reach $6 billion.
Outside of the record industry, observers are closely watching the case, since it raises questions about whether a software manufacturer is liable for the ways in which its products are used.