Lars Ulrich looked
Charlie Rose in the eye.
Ulrich, who was debating rapper
Napster on "The Charlie Rose Show," explained why
Metallica sued Napster
Inc., maker of the popular MP3-trading software of the
same name, and what might happen if Metallica didn't
put their collective foot down. He was sounding
"This is going to throw commerce and the whole
perception of all this stuff on its head completely,"
Or so say people who've been watching the development
of Napster during the past several months.
Many say we're at the beginning of a historical shift,
one that will determine how we treat intellectual
property and copyright for decades to come.
"Copyright to a large extent will have to change,"
said Robin Gross, staff attorney for the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil-liberties
"But in many ways, no matter how it changes, it will
be outpaced by technology. So we're better off letting
the technology work its way through society, and let
society decide what appropriate rules and what
appropriate laws to have, rather than trying to impose
the old legal system onto this new technology."
Napster alone is not at the heart of the
transformation. Napster, which is also being sued by
rapper Dr. Dre and
by the record industry's
chief trade group, is a centralized company that can
be put out of business.
But it appears that Gnutella, a similar file-sharing
program with no central hub through which information
flows, cannot. And FreeNet, a budding file-sharing
program that protects its users' anonymity, may be
more powerful still.
We're not just talking about swapping copies of, say,
Pearl Jam's "Soon
Forget." These simple programs have important
distributing books, articles, movies - any
Traditionally, copyright has been about someone having
the right to prohibit others from making copies of a
work, in a system where making copies was difficult,
entertainment lawyer Whitney Broussard said.
So what happens when copies can easily be created and
distributed with no noticeable loss of quality?
We may end up focusing more on a "right of
remuneration," Broussard said.
"Meaning that you can't really stop someone from
making copies, but you do have the right to get paid,"
A copyright owner could get paid from, for instance,
taxes or licenses, such as the taxes already levied
against recordable CDs.
Courts are already starting to apply existing laws to
new technologies such as Napster and MP3.com's
My.MP3.com online CD-storage and playback service.
Those cases, and surely others ahead, will affect the
course that the concept of intellectual property
But some say what's at stake for creators and
consumers warrants a broader, societal debate.
"I don't think the philosophers have been sufficiently
consulted on this one," said David Weekly, a Stanford
University computer science student who has consulted
for myplay.com, Spinner.com and Time Warner on digital
"This is the issue of use ... What rights does a
creator have to determine how their work should
be used? What rights does a user have?"
Within the existing concept of copyright, trying to
thwart a program like Napster is the natural thing for
rights-holders to do.
But that's a futile approach, Metallica's critics say.
Because after Napster's gone, its users will run to
Gnutella, and if that's shut down, they'll turn to
FreeNet, and so on and so on, forever.
"Trying to stop that is not the right model,"
Broussard said. "Trying to figure out how to get paid
correctly is the right model. Then let people do
whatever the hell they want."