Lars Ulrich: Metallica vs. Napster "maybe not the smartest PR move of all time"

Matti Vähäkainu
10 Nov 2017 9:41

We at AfterDawn followed the early days of digital music very closely, and that meant obviously reporting on the historical Metallica vs. Napster case not only inside the courthouse but perhaps especially outside.
At the turn of the millennium Napster, a music sharing service that allowed users to share music in MP3 format with others over peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, was booming. Napster was really the first service to really bring digital music into homes in large scale, but it was certainly not an industry innovation, in fact it was a reaction to industry not innovating.

This also meant that it didn't bring any money to the table, especially not to the tables of any record companies. It wasn't even designed to make money and/or share it with the artists, copyright holders, or record companies.
While this wasn't the first time piracy or even music piracy had been an issue to the industry, it was certainly the first time it got massive media coverage. This was due to the fact that Metallica, the world's leading heavy metal band, took Napster to court in a massively publicized fashion.

Of course Napster essentially lost the case as it had to settle, and soon after what used to be a hugely popular service largely disappeared. Although, even today Napster exists as a streaming service, ironically a sub-category of the music industry that, one could argue, it created and which eventually saved the music industry as a whole.

The was between piracy and the music industry materialized in this Metallica vs. Napster case, and leading voice in the fight against piracy was Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. He bashed Napster and its users relentlessly, and defended his case in media and in front of the Senate.

However, fighting the fight also meant that some fans were targeted by the band's comments and actions. And there certainly was such thing as bad publicity, and in some circles Metallica's image was ruined.

Now, nearly 20 years after the court case, Ulrich has revealed some insight to what might have been a bit of a mistake in an interview, reported by According to the Metallica drummer everything started when a song destined for Mission Impossible II soundtrack leaked via Napster. Everything sparked from there and Metallica decided to go to war against Napster.

Asking Ulrich what they would have done differently with hindsight he recognizes that they should have done more research in Napster and music sharing. He says that it wasn't about money or the future of the music business, but simply a back-alley brawl. It became a fight for honor, pride, and he acknowledges that it was "maybe not the smartest PR move of all time."

Since the early 2000s Metallica has embraced online music and finally in late 2012 joined Spotify and their latest album "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct" was marketed heavily online. That included early access videos and music on YouTube and Spotify.

If you'd like to travel back in time, you can read the Napster and Metallica stories from 16-17 years ago here.

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