More than 30,000 users of the controversial MP3 file-sharing program Napster have had their accounts reinstated after swearing under penalty of perjury that they were mistakenly accused of illegally trading in copyrighted Metallica song files.
On May 3, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and attorney Howard King delivered a list of more than 300,000 user names to Napster's San Mateo, Calif., office. Ulrich requested, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that the alleged copyright infringers tracked through an independent firm be thrown off the system. Napster complied.
"Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, when that happens, users have recourse, which is counter-notification," Napster spokesperson Dan Wool said. "They can go to the Napster Web site, fill out a form and counter-notify, and Napster delivers those to the claimant in this case Metallica and Dr. Dre and then they have 10 to 14 days to respond, to take action against that user.
"The burden of proof lies on the person making the claim that the copyright was infringed. In this case, Metallica decided not to take any action against these users. Once the period ended and no action was taken, Napster reinstated the accounts," Wool said.
King, who represents Metallica and veteran rapper Dr. Dre in their suits against Napster, said the reinstated users are lying and that Napster's copyright protection policy is ineffective.
"We knew they'd be reinstated, because we didn't sue them," King said. "We think the whole thing's ludicrous. What Napster has done is turned 30,000 probably innocent people into perjurors, because they are lying. ... This whole notification and counter-notification is all a huge indication of why Napster can't legitimately claim that they have some sort of copyright infringement policy that works."
King said Metallica had initially requested only that their songs, including "And Justice for All" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Nothing Else Matters" (RealAudio excerpt) be removed from Napster's directory of available MP3 files, and that the company refused but offered to terminate the accounts of users who Metallica could prove had traded their songs, thereby forcing the band to turn in the list of user names.
"We give them a list, Napster bans them, and Napster does two things," King said. "One, they announce to the world that my clients forced them to ban these users, trying to create a rift between users and my clients, and two, they tell these users that if you sign a form saying you were mistakenly named, you can come back on the service unless the artists sue you. Now, Napster knows ... that it's unlikely that an artist is going to go to the ridiculous result of suing 30,000 people."
Dr. Dre turned in more than 200,000 user names in recent weeks, and Metallica added 300,000 names to their list 18,478 of whom had filed counter-notification notices by Tuesday. King said he has not received notices Napster is compiling for Dr. Dre.
"We'll know if they're lying," King said. "We can prove it. The way we got the names is we surveyed the contents of the hard drives ... It is scary, but whether they know it or not, anybody who downloads the Napster software has created an opening into their hard drive ... if they think it is limited to MP3s as Napster says it is they ought to do more research."
While many fans have interpreted Metallica's crusade against Napster as an all-out assault on fans and as definitive proof of a "sell-out" by a band that has historically allowed fans to record their concerts Ulrich maintains that Metallica are not at war with their fans, but that they merely hope to maintain artistic control over what material is distributed over the Internet.
"Understand that we are not going after any of the 317,000 users that we saw personally," Ulrich said on May 3. "We are merely providing Napster with the names so they can live up to their promise. ... We feel and we believe that Napster is trying to make this an issue between Metallica and our fans. This is not about Metallica and its fans, this is about Metallica and Napster. ... We want online music to be on our conditions."
The hard rock veterans are working on a new Napster-related section for their Web site, metallica.com, where they will post band statements, articles on the debate and other relevant information.
The site, expected to post next week, also will include studies such as those that found that CD sales near colleges had dropped in correlation with an increase in MP3 trading, and another showing an explosion in sales of rewriteable CDs, according to Metallica spokesperson Gayle Fine.