SAN FRANCISCO (04/21/2000) - A host of prominent recording artists are planning to follow Metallica's lead in suing Napster, the online service that allows users to download and trade music recorded in MP3 format.
"There are going to be more lawsuits filed in the next few weeks by prominent artists," says Howard King, who filed suit on behalf of his client Metallica but also represents Dr. Dre, The Offspring, Smashing Pumpkins and the Goo Goo Dolls.
On Monday, the Los Angeles attorney sent a letter on behalf of rapper Dr. Dre, whose legal name is Andre Young, demanding that Napster "delete all tracks" from the directory by 5 p.m. Friday.
On Wednesday, attorneys for Napster responded to the letter by putting the onus on Dr. Dre and his attorney to identify the individual users of the system who are violating the rapper's copyrights. Given the thousands of Napster users downloading and sharing Dr. Dre tracks, King says, such a remedy is a logistical impossibility.
King says Napster's response has strengthened Dr. Dre's resolve to file his own suit against Napster after the Friday deadline, and King intimated that other artists have approached him to talk about getting their names on a lawsuit.
"The suits will be remarkably similar to Metallica," he says. "We do have a word processing program here."
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster in December on behalf of the record labels it represents, alleging "contributory and vicarious copyright infringement." Lawyers for Napster have asked for a summary judgement in that case. If the request is granted, a ruling could come quickly and without a trial. Metallica was the first artist to file suit against Napster though the chorus of artist outrage over the service is growing.
Last night, King said he sat with an artist in his office and gave him his first demonstration of Napster's capabilities.
"The gentleman was astonished," King says. "Every song he's ever recorded is up there."
Napster officials declined to comment on Dr. Dre's letter but reiterated their position that Napster itself hosts no songs, copyrighted or otherwise. Napster consists of software and a service that directs users to where songs reside on other computers.
"The MP3 files that you locate using Napster are not stored on Napster's servers," the company explains on its Web site. "Napster does not, and cannot, control what content is available to you using the Napster browser."
There are potentially two tenets of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 that could protect a service such as Napster, regardless of how it is used. Internet service providers are protected by the DMCA as "dumb pipes," or transitory networks that simply conduct information but have no responsibility for it. The other tenet protects sites like search engines that simply refer and link to information.
Also named in Metallica's suit against Napster are Yale University, the University of Southern California and Indiana University (IU), campuses where the service is widely used. Yale and IU subsequently were dropped from the suit when they opted to block the service.
Because traffic between Napster.com and Yale.edu was blocked two weeks before final exams, reaction on the Yale campus was subdued. One Yale student pointed out that most of the music anyone would want is already downloaded and available on the local Yale network.
"Within the network, you can still get anything from an entire Dave Matthews album to the Beatles' White Album," says Adam Dehavenon, arts editor of the Yale Daily News. "Let's just say I have friends who have 10 GB of MP3s on their hard drive. Last I can remember, there was plenty of stuff to go around."