The heavy metal band, which is suing music-swapping company Napster for what the musicians say are massive copyright violations, says it has identified more than 335,000 individuals who were allegedly sharing the band's songs online in violation of copyright laws.
The band's attorneys will deliver close to 60,000 pages of documents to the small software company Wednesday afternoon, asking that Napster block all of those individuals from the service. It's the first time Napster or other file-swapping software users have been identified in bulk as potential copyright pirates.
"I don't know if it's going to put a chill on the user end," said Howard King, the Los Angeles attorney who represents Metallica and rap artist Dr. Dre, who also is suing Napster. "But it certainly is going to show other artists what they can do to get their work out of Napster."
The massive number of individual names to be unloaded on Napster's front door could send shock waves through the online music community. Many individuals using the software or rival products believed they were operating anonymously or that individual actions would go unnoticed among the massive quantity of files being traded at any given time.
Napster and a handful of similar programs have allowed hundreds of thousands of computer users to open their hard drives and share music files with others online. People can remain superficially anonymous, but enough information is transmitted by the Napster service to track many individuals to their specific computers, network administrators say.
Attorneys for Metallica say they hired NetPD, an online consulting firm, to monitor the Napster service this past weekend. The firm came up with more than 335,000 individual users who had made the band's content available online, the lawyers said.
Napster has consistently refused to remove specific artists' content from its service, noting that it is only a directory for the individuals who are trading the files. But the company has said it would eject users who are specifically identified as copyright violators.
Napster had no comment on the news.
Metallica's action is the latest development in what appears to be a campaign aimed at dissuading people from using Napster by adding an element of risk.
The band initially sued three universities that allowed students to use Napster, charging that they were assisting in copyright piracy. All three quickly backed down, blocking or sharply restricting use of the software on their campuses.
Metallica and Dr. Dre also included slots for unnamed students and universities in their lawsuits, saying they would be added later as the musicians obtained more information.
The current list of Metallica song-traders will only be given to Napster and will not be included in the lawsuit, King said. Dr. Dre has not yet conducted his own search for pirates, but the same techniques will likely be applied to the rapper's work if Napster does respond, the attorney added.
Another lawsuit against Napster, filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), is in federal court, where a judge is expected to make a preliminary ruling any day.