Veteran music business attorney Peter Paterno, who has worked with METALLICA since the early 1980s, has defended the band’s lawsuit against Napster in 2000. Although the case was settled out of court, more than 300,000 users were banned from the pioneering music file-sharing service as a result and METALLICA‘s image took a tremendous beating in the eyes of music fans. Asked in a new interview with Variety if he feels the legal action was “fair”, Paterno responded, “Yeah”, and added: “Because they were basically thieves! It’s not a popular opinion. The popular opinion now is a sort of revisionist history that we shouldn’t have sued Napster, we should have worked something out with them. Well, no, there was nothing to work out with them. ‘You could have made a deal.’ What was the deal? People were getting music for free. It was really necessary in order to set the ground rules for what music is worth. Those fans aren’t fans — fans pay for music and appreciate its value. It’s like Dre said when we told him about Napster. ‘I work 24/7 in the lab and these guys just steal it? Screw them.'”
METALLICA sued Napster after the band discovered that a leaked demo version of its song “I Disappear” was circulating on the pioneering music file-sharing service before it was released.
In May 2000, METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich famously delivered a literal truckload of paper to Napster Inc., listing hundreds of thousands of people who allegedly used the company’s software to share unauthorized MP3s of METALLICA‘s songs.
METALLICA representatives compiled the more than 60,000-page list of 335,435 Napster user IDs over one weekend in response to Napster‘s promise to terminate the accounts of users who trade material without permission. Real names were not included in the list.
Last year, METALLICA guitaristKirk Hammett reflected on the band’s legal dispute with the file-sharing site, telling Classic Rock magazine: “We warned everyone that this was gonna happen. We warned everyone that the music industry was gonna lose eighty percent of its net worth, power and influence. When these monumental shifts come, you just either fucking rattle the cage and get nothing done or you move forward.
“There’s definitely a new way for getting music out there, but it isn’t as effective as the music industry pre-Napster,” he continued. “But we’re stuck with it. There needs to be some sort of midway point where the two come together, or another completely new model comes in.”
Three and a half years ago, Hammett said that METALLICA “did not make a difference” by trying to fight Napster.
“The amazing thing now is back then, people were saying, ’20 years from now, we’re gonna look back and say, ‘Goddamn it! We did the right thing,'” the METALLICA guitarist said. “But when people were saying back then we were actually gonna make a difference? We didn’t make a difference — we did not make a difference. It happened. And we couldn’t stop it, because it was just bigger than any of us — this trend that happened that fucking sunk the fucking music industry. There was no way that we could stop it. It was a perfectly human thing that just happened. And what had happened was all of a sudden, it was just more convenient to get music and it was less convenient to pay for it. And there you have it.
“For me, it was kind of a leveling factor,” he continued. “All of a sudden, all of us were brought back to the minstrel age now where musicians’ only source of income is actually playing. And it’s like that nowadays — except that a lot of these bands [chuckles] aren’t really playing; they’re pressing ‘play’ or something. But there are a lot of bands who actually fucking play their instruments and have to play to still be a band and still fucking survive. And that’s cool, because it really separates who wants to do this and who is just here for the fucking pose. … You’ll see who’s passionate about it and who’s really into it for the art of it, and then you’ll see who’s not so passionate about it and into the commerce of it.
“Maybe things might change,” Hammett philosophized. “Maybe all of a sudden people will just start to prefer CDs or whatever format as to what’s available now. Who’s to say? I mean, it changed all so quickly back then; it could fucking change just as quickly now.”
Back in 2017, Ulrich was asked by 92Y if there is anything he would have done differently in METALLICA‘s legal dispute with Napster. He responded: “To answer your question directly, I think we would have educated ourselves better about what the other side were thinking and what the real issues were. ‘Cause you’ve gotta remember, this started out as a street fight. This wasn’t about the future of music, this wasn’t about the music business, this had absolutely nothing to do with money. This was a back-alley street fight.
“Cliff [Burnstein, METALLICA co-manager] calls one day and says… We were working on a song for this Tom Cruise film, ‘Mission Impossible II’, called ‘I Disappear’, and we recorded it in between some touring commitments, and it was gonna be held back till the next summer. And so one day I got a call from Cliff saying ‘I Disappear’ is being played on 20 radio stations across America, and we’re, like, ‘How the fuck is this possible?’ And he said there’s something called Napster where people can go and share. And we’re, like, ‘How the hell did they get ‘I Disappear’? It lives in our vault somewhere.’ And so we traced it back to this company Napster, and as you did in those days, it was, like, ‘Well, let’s go fuck with Napster then.’ So just like these five bright lights on me, and I can’t actually see any of you guys, all of a sudden, we were caught in these lights and we’re standing out in the middle going, ‘Oops.’ I guess Napster means a lot to a lot of people, and so we were caught a little bit off guard with that, and then we sort of had to figure out how we were gonna play it.”
Lars went on to say that METALLICA was “totally pro bootlegging” around the time Napster was launched. “You could show up at a METALLICA gig, you could buy a ticket, you could bring in your own recording devices and you could stand on a platform and record METALLICA shows,” he said. “You could bootleg them and we were totally encouraging of this. We were all tape traders, and we were totally pro all this stuff. But the thing that blew our minds about Napster was we couldn’t wrap our heads around, ‘Why did nobody from Napster call and go, ‘Are you okay with us doing this?’ Because then it was a conversation. But they did this without checking in with us. And that was the part that we couldn’t understand, that was where I think we could have educated ourselves better about how all of this worked and what it meant to people, because all of a sudden, we were standing out there going… And then we were caught in a shitstorm and people were, like, ‘METALLICA, they’re really greedy and money hungry,’ and it had nothing — nothing — to do with money whatsoever. It was just about, ‘Wait a minute! If we’re gonna give away our music, which we don’t mind doing, maybe we should do it, or maybe somebody should ask our permission.’ That was it. And then that back-alley streetfight went public and worldwide and then we were completely caught off guard.”
Regarding the decision to compile a list of user IDs in response to Napster‘s promise to terminate the accounts of users who trade material without permission, Lars said: “That was a dare. Because what [Napster] said… They were very smart and they really were very smart. And Sean Parker and I are best friends and we’ve had all this out, and I’ve complimented him and we rekindled our relationship. But they were so fucking smart. They said, ‘We don’t know who these people are that are downloading your songs.’ And we went, ‘We don’t believe that. And we believe that we can find those names.’ And they go, ‘Okay. Who are they?’ And we went, ‘Here are the names.’ I showed up at Napster and started pulling 335,000 names out of a pickup truck. ‘Here are the people. If you can’t find them, we can give ’em to you.’ And so that was… maybe not the smartest PR move of all time, but at least we won the argument.”
The drummer added: “Listen, as they say, that and a quarter will get me on the bus, but it seemed like a really good idea at the time. So, there you go.”
In later years, METALLICA embraced digital music: in December 2012, the band made all of its studio albums, as well as various live material, singles, remixes and collaborations, available on Spotify.