Metallica no doubt expected plenty of publicity when they sued the MP3-trading software company Napster.
But what the hard-rock band has got is a full-fledged backlash.
"A lot of people are like, 'Why should I feel guilty for downloading MP3s I've seen all their concerts, I own all the CDs, I've bought T-shirts they've got my money already,' " said Mark Erickson, president and CEO of August Nelson, the online music company that runs PayLars.com.
The sarcastic site allows fans to "donate" $1 for each officially released Metallica song, to "make up for all the revenue the band thinks it's losing to online MP3 trading."
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich delivered a list of more than 300,000 user names to Napster on May 2, and asked the company to terminate the accounts of users who were trading copyrighted Metallica material.
"This is not about Metallica and its fans; this is about Metallica and Napster," Ulrich said.
Many fans seem to think otherwise.
A message on Napster's Web site notifies terminated users that they can be reinstated if they swear they were wrongfully accused. Instructions for reinstating shut-down accounts are freely available on the Internet, as are profanity-laden criticisms of the band's policies.
"What sickened me ... was when I learned that they were suing three major universities," Joshua Miller, a 19-year-old University of Illinois student, wrote in an email. "All three of these schools [then] blocked unmonitored access to the network. ... What Metallica has essentially done by suing these universities is promote censorship. Young artists are being denied the ability to share their creative thoughts on the large scale that Napster provides."
Critics Shoot Back
Metallica spokesperson Gayle Fine said she discounts much of the criticism as typical anti-Metallica sentiment. "They're also the same fans who had a problem when the band cut their hair, they had a problem when they changed producers anything after the Black Album," she said, referring to the 1991 self-titled album that turned the band into major rock stars. "Has it affected our album sales? No. Has it affected our ticket sales? No. Last week, our catalog sales were up 20 percent. There are always people who have something bad to say about Metallica, and this gives them another opportunity to do it."
And Metallica's critics are taking that opportunity.
An animated short, "Napster Bad," available at campchaos.com, features a stinging caricature of Ulrich boasting about the band's wealth while complaining about MP3 piracy. Singer James Hetfield hunches apelike on a pile of money bags, grunting "Money good! Napster bad!"
"I do own a copy of Napster, and I'm also a fan of Metallica, but this seemed absolutely ridiculous that they were doing this," the film's 28-year-old creator, Bob Cesca, said. "It seems to me that their financial and time resources would have been better spent [on] a Metallica version of Napster. ... They should have been a little more forward-thinking when it comes to technology, than rather a knee-jerk reaction, suing Napster and adversely affecting their fans."
Cesca said the next of five similar shorts will be "Metallicops" a spoof of the television show "Cops" portraying Ulrich and Hetfield as police busting a kid who downloads a copy of "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" (RealAudio excerpt).
Even Metallica's hard-rock peers Mötley Crüe have entered the fray. Mötley Crüe, who once tangled with fellow Los Angeles rockers Guns N' Roses, recruited Camp Chaos to produce their own animated jab, "Metalligreed."
"Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered, and I think Metallica's hogs," Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx said. "They make enough off T-shirts and concert events and other forms of corporation. I think that it's not acceptable behavior for an artist to do that to their fans."
"Elektra ... [and] Metallica's management, they're puppeteering the guys in Metallica and they're f---ing their fans, and I think it's f---ed," Sixx said.
"If Mötley Crüe's on one side, and we're on the other, you can guarantee we're on the right side," Fine said.
'We Don't Want To Be Puppets'
Ulrich has said his concern is about the rights of artists to choose what material to make available online, not about money.
Metallica historically have allowed fans to record their concerts, but they say they draw the line at songs copped from albums, such as "Master of Puppets" (RealAudio excerpt) or demos of "I Disappear," the band's contribution to the "Mission: Impossible 2" soundtrack, which were readily available through Napster.
Radio stations are paying close attention to fan reaction.
"I wish Lars had decided to find a way to profit from Napster instead of fighting it," said Bill May, operations manager at San Diego station KIOZ-FM, which hosts a daily "Mandatory Metallica" segment.
"I don't begrudge the man the opportunity to make a living and have a career and future from his music, but I think he went about it in a way that wasn't best for the band right now," May said. "I agree he should profit from his art, but I think he discounted the backlash the fans would have."
Ulrich said he does not enjoy the battle or the ensuing controversy.
"If you are fortunate enough to be at the level that we are, this is some of the stuff that comes with the territory," Ulrich said. "This is about Metallica, this is what's right for us, and we don't want to be puppets in these types of games, because it ultimately affects us directly, and how people relate to what we do," Ulrich said. "It's kind of an evil necessity."
(Staff Writer Teri vanHorn, Senior Writer Chris Nelson and Contributing Editor Mark Woodlief contributed to this report.)