Testing Metallica's Mettle

FRAMINGHAM (05/01/2000) - "[Metallica's] last tour was a metaphor for rock bloatedness" - Ben Ratliff, Rolling Stone, 1999.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Napster Inc., the system for sharing MP3 files across the Internet, and the idiocy that is surrounding it.

Well, on April 13 the heavy metal rock band Metallica, along with E/M Ventures and Creeping Death Music (honestly, I didn't make that up), jointly filed suit against Napster, Inc., the University of Southern California, Yale University and Indiana University.

Metallica and friends own the copyrights of the recordings and compositions created by the band. The suit alleges "the co-defendants committed continuing copyright infringements, made unlawful use of a digital audio interface device, and committed violations of the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act."

Metallica says "Napster has devised and distributed software whose sole purpose is to permit Napster to profit by abetting and encouraging the pirating of the creative efforts of the world's most admired and successful musical artists.

Facilitating that effort are the hypocritical universities and colleges which could easily block this insidious and ongoing thievery scheme. The last links in the chain are the end users of the stolen musical works, students of these universities and others who exhibit the moral fiber of common looters loading up shopping carts because 'everybody else is doing it.' "Let me digress for a second:I assume the phrase, "the world's most admired and successful musical artists" is meant to apply to artists in general rather than Metallica alone. While the band has enjoyed enormous popularity, it is dramatically unoriginal (ever heard of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple?) and its members are hardly virtuosos even in their own genre. Go listen to Mot"rhead for a lot more energy, Lynyrd Skynyrd for a lot more flair, and Thin Lizzy for a lot more style.

So let's see . . . well, my first problem with this suit is that the logic involved would allow, say, Bank of America to sue Ford for producing cars because they enable bank robbers to stage getaways. Or how about overweight people suing their local supermarkets for supplying Ben & Jerry's ice cream and making highly caloric food available to them?

In a statement, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich said: "With each project, we go through a grueling creative process to achieve music that we feel is representative of Metallica at that very moment in our lives. We take our craft, whether it be the music, the lyrics, or the photos and artwork, very seriously, as do most artists. It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is."

Hold on bucko - your music is a commodity! Isn't a band that has sold more than six million records dealing with a commodity? And to describe your product as "art" in such wounded terms . . . well, isn't that just a little bit egotistical? Then again, it is heavy metal.

What really concerns me about this suit is not only the continuing attacks on Napster, which I think are groundless and unethical (apart from being logically and conceptually absurd), but also the inclusion of universities as co-defendants! What absolute idiocy and opportunism!

Why don't Metallica et al take out a suit against the actual Napster users? You don't know who they are? Then hell, let's apply the principle they are apparently working with and include everyone who uses the 'Net, as well as all the ISPs that are involved in the Napster exchanges as well as Cisco Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., etc. - yep, there's a pretty big list.

Come on Metallica, let's test your mettle. Go for the real culprits and leave the bystanders alone. You can't? That's life.

Tales of idiocy to nwcolumn@ gibbs.com.

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