|Hard-rockers Metallica, long icons of antiauthoritarian individualism, said during an online chat Tuesday (May 2) that what the Internet needs is a little law and order.
To that end, the band filed suit last month against Napster Inc., alleging that the company's popular MP3-trading software of the same name enables users to commit copyright infringement.
"The ideal situation is clear and simple — to put Napster out of business," drummer Lars Ulrich said. A Napster spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Wednesday, Ulrich is scheduled to deliver the online identities of more than 300,000 Napster users to Napster Inc.'s San Mateo, Calif., offices. During the weekend, Metallica representatives compiled a list of people allegedly using Napster software to swap near-CD-quality copies of the group's songs, such as "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (RealAudio excerpt), without the band's permission.
"Why don't you bite the bullet and sue each of your 335,435 fans who are trading the files," one person asked during the 75-minute chat.
Though Metallica pledged in court papers to amend their case with the names of individual Napster traders, guitarist James Hetfield said they're battling Napster, not fans.
"All the people doing illegal things here, whether with good or bad intentions, we are not going after individual fans," he said. "Metallica has always felt fans are family."
Ulrich, who has been the most outspoken member on the Napster issue, talked about the possibility of "policing the Internet" to monitor who is trafficking in pirated music.
"It's about trying to put your foot down before this whole Internet thing runs amok, and get people to start a debate about, to get Congress to start setting relative parameters about where technology is going," he said.
The bandmembers stressed repeatedly that they filed their suit to take a stand for all artists. Metallica said artists should control how their work is presented.
The 20-year metal veterans put themselves at the front and center of the online piracy debate when they filed the suit, which also charged Yale University, Indiana University and the University of Southern California with helping Napster to enable infringement. The band promised to drop the schools from the suit after all three said they would restrict Napster use on campus networks.
Soon after, rapper Dr. Dre filed a similar suit, while artists such as punk-rockers the Offspring and rapper Chuck D aligned themselves as Napster supporters. Rap-metal outfit Limp Bizkit signed Napster as the sponsor of a free summer tour with hip-hoppers Cypress Hill.
Fans should be wary of such deals, Ulrich said, implying that having a sponsor can influence a band's decisions.
But some critics are warning fans to be wary of Metallica. Anti-censorship activist Nina Crowley, executive director of the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition, called for a boycott of the band's albums and summer tour.
"Fans are insulted by being treated like this," she said on Tuesday, before the chat. "They ought to be outraged — they've been supporting these bands. Without them, these bands wouldn't exist."
A chat moderator said the event received several thousand questions, which were filtered by organizers. The tenor of the talk was thus more even-handed than recent discussions about the suit on unregulated Internet forums.
Michael Burich, 22, of Youngstown, Ohio, is one of the few online fans who has publicly taken the band's side. Musicians are entitled to be paid for their product, he said. But he also said he understands how fans might consider using Napster if they're angry over high CD prices.
"Nobody wins, really," he said.
Despite the often serious tone of the Tuesday's chat, Metallica managed to portray themselves as easy-going. One fan asked whether people who have illegally downloaded Metallica tracks should delete them.
"Howard King, our lawyer, is going to answer that one," Ulrich said. Then after a pause, he added, "Enjoy it, don't transfer it."