SAN MATEO, Calif.--With showmanship worthy of a stadium concert, hard-rock
band Metallica dumped a truckload of legal documents on software company
Napster's doorstep today, identifying more than 335,000 screen names for people the band says may have been illegally pirating its songs.
The band's attorneys say they fingered the individuals sharing
Metallica songs online while doing a scan of the software service last
weekend, and they want those people stopped. The band isn't threatening
to sue the software users, but today it demanded that Napster block them from its MP3-swapping
It's the first time that alleged copyright pirates on Napster or a similar
service have been identified in bulk. The move puts the small software
company in the uncomfortable position of choosing between defending its
members and defending its own legal right to exist.
The company said it would block people from its service only if Metallica's
documents--submitted in paper rather than computerized form--had all their
legal i's dotted.
"Napster will review the over 300,000 fan names that Metallica turned in as
soon as possible," Fenwick & West attorney Lawrence Pulgrum, who is
representing the company, said in a statement. "If the claims are submitted
properly, the company will take the appropriate actions to disable the
users Metallica has identified."
Today's event dipped heavily into the surreal, providing plenty of
rock-and-roll spectacle for the assembled TV cameras. Napster and
Metallica fans brandished T-shirts and stickers and shouted at one another
as the documents were delivered. As drummer Lars Ulrich gave his statement
defending the band's position, a self-declared "ex-fan" shouted protests in
the background and broke CDs with his bare hands.
Metallica says it has no plans to sue Napster users.
But notwithstanding the circus atmosphere, the identification of
individuals does mark new ground in the record industry's attempt to keep
its wares from being freely distributed online. It also could help test the
boundaries of online copyright law.
Napster is being sued by the
Recording Industry Association of America, as well as by Metallica and
rapper Dr. Dre, for contributing to vast amounts of music piracy allegedly
taking place with the aid of its software.
"The ideal situation is clear and simple--to put Napster out of business,"
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich said in a chat with the public on Yahoo last night.
The Napster software allows hundreds of thousands of people to link their
computer hard drives and easily swap copies of high-quality MP3 files,
legal or not.
The software company has claimed in court that it simply provides a
directory of songs located on its subscribers' computers and doesn't host
any content itself. It says it's entitled to the same protections against
legal liability that Internet service providers have.
But that's where Metallica's 60,000 pages of legal documents come in.
Under current law, copyright holders such as Metallica can demand that an
ISP remove pirated content from its service, or even demand that links to
such illegal content be removed.
If an ISP wants to avoid legal liability, it has to remove the content or
Metallica's message for Napster users.
the links and notify its customer why that action is being taken. In the
context of Napster, this would mean blocking a member's username or
Internet Protocol address
--the numbers that identify a computer on the
Internet--from accessing the service.
Lawyers say that copyright law does allow a response, however. Blocked
members have three days to tell the ISP, under threat of perjury, that the
content wasn't illegal, or that they were misidentified. If the ISP gets
this notification, it has to forward it to the copyright holder. If the
copyright holder (in this case Metallica) doesn't file an actual lawsuit
against the user of the service, then the content can be put back in 10 days.
Courts are still trying to determine whether Napster fits under this
copyright law. A preliminary decision is expected from a federal
judge any day.
The company has said it intends to comply with copyright law, however. A
message on its Web site warns its members about copyright violations and
says that the company "reserves the right to terminate the account of a
user upon any single infringement of the rights of others in conjunction
with use of the Napster service."
"They're really getting whipsawed by the various plaintiffs," said Bill
Coats, a copyright attorney with Howrey Simon Arnold & White. "This puts
Napster in a challenging position."
Even if the service does decide to block some of its members, it has a
difficult road ahead.
Metallica's attorneys provided only information about individuals' usernames, the names of the Metallica songs being shared, dates and times the songs were available, and the Internet addresses of Napster's servers.
Has Lars ever used Napster?
That could allow Napster to block individual usernames. But these usernames can easily be changed by Napster subscribers.
Network administrators say it's possible to determine the IP addresses of individual Napster users, which would be a more effective tool in blocking access to the service. A Napster spokesman said that Metallica did not include this information, however.
Metallica's attorneys said that they did include people's IP addresses, but this could not be independently verified by News.com.
Napster executives are hoping for a way to settle with the band instead of
blocking its members, they said today.
"I'm a huge Metallica fan and therefore really sorry that they're going in
this direction," Shawn Fanning, the 19-year-old founder of the company,
said in a statement. "If we got the opportunity to explain to the band why
Napster exists and why fans enjoy Napster, perhaps we could bring all of
this to a peaceful conclusion."