Bono risks becoming next Lars Ulrich

U2's frontman lashes out at ISPs for not doing more to stem online piracy because--he contends--they profit from illegal file sharing.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read

Ever since Paul McGuinness, manager of the rock band U2, began lashing out at Internet Service providers for allegedly profiting from and encouraging illegal file sharing, U2 fans have wondered whether McGuinness spoke for the band.

Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2 (seen here last month at the Vevo launch party) is inviting controversy by speaking out against file sharing. Greg Sandoval/CNET

Bono, U2's outspoken frontman, cleared that up this weekend. As part of a op-ed piece in The New York Times, the singer argued that online file sharing is hurting music and film creators and placed much of the blame on bandwidth providers.

"A decade's worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators," Bono wrote, "in this case, the young, fledgling songwriters who can't live off ticket and T-shirt sales like the least sympathetic among us."

Bono's comments are surprising. Most artists have stayed away from publicly criticizing file sharing for fear they could alienate fans the same way that Metallica did when the group filed a copyright lawsuit against Napster nearly a decade ago. Lars Ulrich, Metallica's drummer, was vocal about his distaste for those who shared music without paying for it and the band was widely criticized for its antipiracy stance.

In U2's case, band members have appeared willing the past two years to let McGuinness take the spears and arrows for speaking out against file sharing. In an interview with CNET last spring, McGuinness, U2's manager for more than two decades, riled some from the free-content crowd when he argued that "ultimately, free is the enemy of good."

McGuinness has typically saved his harshest rebuke for bandwidth providers, who he says "bear a huge responsibility to put things right." Bono also ripped into ISPs for not doing more to help protect copyright.

The singer said that the people benefiting most from online piracy are those running ISPs "whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business."

Getting bandwidth providers to help fight online piracy is paramount for entertainment companies. Critics say the ISPs are in the best position to block the pirated material that flows through their pipes and create file-sharing deterrents. But the biggest ISPs have appeared reluctant to do much despite the cajoling and lobbying by the entertainment community. For example, the Recording Industry Association of America has tried to enlist their help in creating a system whereby participating ISPs would gradually ratchet up pressure on suspected file sharers. The RIAA promised a year ago that it had agreements in place.

So far, no partnerships have been announced and at this point the promise appears to have been empty. Negotiations continue but many in the music industry are weary of the perceived foot dragging of ISPs. Is that the source of Bono's frustration?

Bono and McGuinness know how it looks to some fans when the richest band in the world starts complaining about lost profits. But both men say they aren't speaking out for the benefit of U2, which McGuinness acknowledged is rich and makes a load of money off concert tours and merchandise sales. Bono and his band manager suggest that they are arguing on behalf of talented acts that have not yet made a name for themselves but would be in the future harmed by file sharing.

"Note to self," Bono wrote in the op-ed piece. "Don't get over-rewarded rock stars on this bully pulpit, or famous actors; find the next Cole Porter, if he/she hasn't already left to write jingles."