Lars Ulrich has once again shot down the perception that METALLICA's "greed" was at the core of the band's decision to launch legal action 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.
The METALLICA drummer, who was the main spokesperson for the band in the Napster battle, has since become friends with Napster co-founder and current Spotify investor Sean Parker and even attended Parker's wedding.
METALLICA sued Napster after the band discovered that a leaked demo version of its song "I Disappear" was circulating on the service before it was released.
During a career-spanning interview this past Sunday (November 5) at 92Y in New York City, Ulrich was asked if there is anything he would have done differently in METALLICA's legal dispute against the file-sharing site.
"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," Ulrich said. "'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."
In May 2000, 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.
"That was a dare," Ulrich said during the 92Y said. "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 has embraced digital music: in December 2012, the band made all nine of its studio albums, as well as various live material, singles, remixes and collaborations, available on Spotify.
METALLICA has just completed the first European leg of its "WorldWired" tour. After a break, the trek will pick up again on February 1, 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal, and continue through May, finishing up in Helsinki, Finland.
The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame band is touring in support of its tenth studio album, "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct", which came out in November 2016.