Claiming that MP3 traders have the "moral fiber of common looters," Metallica sued unnamed users of the Napster MP3-trading program, along with the Napster company and three universities Thursday (April 13), claiming copyright infringement.
The lawsuit seeks damages of up to $100,000 per illegally traded song, as well as a permanent injunction against the phenomenally popular Napster software.
Trading music without the permission of the copyright holder is "morally and legally wrong," the hard-rock band's drummer, Lars Ulrich, said in a press release.
Napster, made by a San Mateo, Calif., company of the same name, streamlines the process of exchanging near-CD-quality MP3 files. The program has taken the online-music community by storm; at any given time, hundreds of thousands of songs from Metallica to jazz great John Coltrane to country star Garth Brooks to classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven are available for downloading.
The sole purpose of Napster, the band alleges in its suit, is to abet and encourage music piracy. It goes on to say that colleges that could stop the program instead allow it to flourish online.
"The last link in the chain are the end users of these stolen music 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,' " the suit says.
Napster, Metallica Fans Baffled By Suit
Representatives for Napster could not be reached for comment. Yale University, the University of Southern California and Indiana University are also named in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The band promises in the suit to amend its case with the names of additional offending universities, as well as students at the schools who have used Napster to trade Metallica songs.
"This is just not the way to go," said Chad Paulson, an Indiana University sophomore who spearheaded a nationwide petition to keep schools from banning Napster.
Comparing Napster users to looters "is a pretty intense thing to say," said Nick Henning, an IU freshman who described himself as both a Napster user and a Metallica fan.
"I understand where they're coming from, but at some point when they were getting started, they just wanted to get their music out there. The MP3 format is one easy way to do that," Henning said.
The suit also invokes racketeering laws best known for prosecuting members of the Mafia. It alleges that Napster, the schools and students are colluding to engage in piracy, and in the process are harming the band's business.
"We take our craft whether it be the music, the lyrics, or the photos and artwork very seriously, as do most artists," Ulrich said in his statement. "It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is."
First Band To Sue Napster
In December, the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the industry's major labels, sued Napster, claiming the program contributes to copyright infringement. Metallica, one of the world's most popular hard-rock bands, is the first band to sue Napster.
Napster has become particularly popular on college campuses where students have access to extremely fast Internet connections.
Indiana University spokesperson J.T. Forbes and USC spokesperson Bob Calverle said they had not seen the suit and could not comment. Representatives from Yale could not be reached.
Last year, Metallica streamed over the Internet their latest album, S&M, which includes such songs as "Master of Puppets" (RealAudio excerpt) cut live with a symphony. Streaming music can be listened to but not downloaded and saved.
The band also is known for allowing fans to tape its concerts and trade the recordings.
Steve Jones, a communications professor and intellectual-property expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said he does not expect other musicians to follow Metallica's lead. But he does picture colleges banning Internet traffic to Napster in response to the suit.
"I see universities hitting the panic button," he said. "I don't see many university attorneys justifying to administrators that Napster should continue to be available."
(This report was updated at 9:35 p.m. EDT Thursday, April 13, 2000.)