Metallica’s Lawyer On Napster Lawsuit: Fans ‘Were Basically Thieves!’

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As Metallica careen around the news cycle, memories are brought to the surface regarding different points in their career. 

With the band’s new 72 Seasons album, Metallica firmly intends to remind fans of the salad days with Cliff Burton and the first two Newsted albums. We’re supposed to be sonically transported to a point in time where metal reigned supreme, carried by a band with battle scars to prove that they know where they’re coming from.

Metallica have experienced more of the good and bad of life in a band than most of us would ever dream. 72 Seasons is the testament of a band who has been through heaven and hell several times over, living to tell the tale.

Discussion of a new Metallica record in the age of streaming will inevitably conjure recollections of possibly the most contentious point in their history. After suffering through Load and Reload, the band whose foundation was built on the tape trading scene of the 1980s did the unthinkable: They sued their fans for illegally downloading their music.

On July 11th, 2000, Lars Ulrich read a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The statement claimed that an unreleased Metallica song was being played on the radio, and the leak was traced back to file sharing service, Napster. A cursory glance at the site showed that not only was the unreleased song available for download, but MP3s of the band’s entire discography were available, free for the taking.

While it might have come as a shock to Metallica, music fans weren’t at all surprised by the volume of material on Napster. In short order, the peer-to-peer file-sharing service had grown into a monolith. The question wasn’t “what’s on Napster?” so much as “What’s not?”

With assistance from attorney Peter Paterno, Metallica sought ten million dollars in damages. The band hired an online consulting firm, that produced a list of 335,435 Napster users who were violating copyright law by hosting Metallica’s music on Napster. Metallica insisted that their songs be banned from sharing and that the users responsible be removed from the service.

In a recent interview with Variety, attorney Peter Paterno reflected on his role in the lawsuit:


I assume you were very involved in Metallica suing Napster?


And when they started suing fans for illegal downloading?


Did you think that was fair?



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 [Dr.] Dre said when we told him about Napster,” he said, “I work 24/7 in the lab and these guys just steal it? Screw them.”

It’s hard to disagree with that.

Well, a lot of people do. A lot of people think that’s really a radical stance, but we went from a business that was doing $30 billion a year to doing a third of that in three or four years because of people’s creativity not being rewarded. I’ve never agreed with that.

It took the industry 15 years to really figure out streaming. Do you think there are things that could have been done earlier?

I don’t know if you remember, but they did try. They tried to develop this thing called Press Play, but record companies don’t do technology, they needed a technology company to figure it out. So I think was on some level inevitable that it went the way it did. And like I said, I think the key to all the lawsuits was to at least establish some ground rules about what you have to do in order to distribute music and have creators get paid for what they do.


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