Metallica to Napster: "Don't Tread On Me"

They may sing about death and destruction, releasing albums with titles such as 1983's Kill 'em All, but underneath the menacing exteriors, Metallica is really just a group of sensitive artists.

Or so it would seem. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich explains, "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. From a business standpoint, this is about piracy—aka taking something that doesn't belong to you; and that is morally and legally wrong. The trading of such information—whether it's music, videos, photos, or whatever—is, in effect, trafficking in stolen goods."

What has the group's hackles up are illegally copied MP3 audio files being traded around the world via the Internet. Instrumental in accelerating the distribution of unauthorized MP3 files is the controversial software program called Napster, which has taken off like a rocket on college campuses everywhere. In response, Metallica, E/M Ventures, and Creeping Death Music revealed last week that they had filed suit in US District Court's Central District of California against Napster, The University of Southern California, Yale University, and Indiana University. E/M Ventures and Creeping Death Music are the copyright owners of sound recordings and musical compositions created by Metallica.

The suit alleges that Napster and the other defendants—by encouraging and enabling visitors to its website to unlawfully exchange with others copyrighted songs and sound recordings without the knowledge or permission of Metallica—have violated the law by committing continuing copyright infringements, unlawful use of digital audio interface devices, and violations of the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Further, the suit states that "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, who could easily block this insidious and ongoing thievery scheme. The last link 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.' "

Dozens of colleges have already banned the use of Napster on their campus networks, claiming that the software eats up bandwidth and slows other online activities. But USC came out defending the program last February, attempting to steer clear of meddling in students' online activities. Napster, who claims it supports the rights of artists and copyright holders and seeks to comply with applicable laws and regulations governing copyright, itself has already been hit with a suit from the Recording Industry Association of America, which alleges that Napster violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a new law that bars devices that could be used to circumvent copyrights.