Is Lars Ulrich Clueless About the Internet?
It didn’t take long for my inbox to fill up after Paylars.com published my open letter to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. While most of the mail was supportive of my assertion that MP3 file-sharing is not unethical nor illegal, a few of the messages were critical of my stance. One writer characterized my letter as an excuse for theft. Another writer, obviously a big Metallica fan, told me I suck. More than a few writers expressed their opinion that Metallica are spoiled rich musicians who are clueless about the new file-sharing technologies.
On May 2, Metallica engaged in an online chat with fans, attempting to explain their position on Napster in particular and the Internet in general. Lars said that the Internet needs to be policed for what he considers illegal activity. "It's about trying to put your foot down before this whole Internet thing runs amok, and get people to start a debate about, to get Congress to start setting relative parameters about where technology is going," he said.
Lars Ulrich did not indicate how he would have the “Internet thing” monitored and policed. His suggestion was to get Congress and the government involved. But how, and to what degree? Lars does not explain. I will bet the farm that he has no idea of how this might be accomplished. Is Lars Ulrich ready to accept massive intrusions into the online lives of millions of people, some who may trade supposedly illegal MP3s? Is he willing to endorse a police state simply to prevent what he and Metallica see as music piracy? Is it not arrogance manifest to suggest that millions of people should forfeit their privacy and security in order to prevent behavior Ulrich and his band view as illegal?
Obviously, Lars Ulrich does not grasp the concept or the dynamics of the Internet. According to the latest statistical information, there are close to 300 million people with access to the Internet. This diverse population spans language, cultural, and national boundaries. It is anything but homogenous. Any attempt to forge a standardized law enforcement approach across nations with differing – even contradictory – legal and law enforcement institutions would be a red tape nightmare of unimaginable proportions. If, for instance, Europe cannot decide on a common currency, how can it be expected that they will agree on a set of laws governing the Internet? Moreover, as evidenced by the activism of the ACLU and EFF – and the defeat of CDA  on constitutional grounds – any such proposals would face very stiff opposition.
Lars is not alone in his belief that the Internet needs to be muzzled. Louis J. Freeh, Director Federal Bureau of Investigation, said as much in a Congressional statement on March 28, 2000. “The United States is the leader in the development of creative, technical intellectual property,” Freeh told the Judiciary Subcommittee for the Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information. “Violations of Intellectual Property Rights, therefore, threaten the very basis of our economy… There are thousands of web sites solely devoted to the distribution of pirated materials. The FBI has recognized, along with other federal agencies, that a coordinated effort must be made to attack this problem.” While the FBI did not directly cite Napster and the sharing of music files as a specific example of criminal activity, it can be reasonably assumed that the renegade software program is in the agency’s sites, especially considering its Intellectual Property Rights Infringement Initiative and Operation Counter Copy (OCC). Colorful bureaucratic nomenclature aside, the OCC Web site indicates that the FBI “works closely with the various related industries including the Motion Picture Association, Business Software Alliance, and the Recording Industry Association of America in order to better address this crime problem.” It is no secret, of course, that the RIAA has placed Napster and other file-sharing programs at the top of its hit list. It is logical, then, to assume that the FBI not only knows about Napster, the little company founded by a 19 year old programmer, but is also actively investigating and collating materials that may be used against it in the future. That is if the RIAA and Metallica lawsuits do not put it out of business first.
Is Lars Ulrich and Metallica clueless about the Internet? The band’s ignorance of the Internet became embarrassingly obvious in a chat with its fans on May 2. As reported by Symonx in an article published at Layer3News, Metallica band members kept referring to Napster as a Web site, not a software program. Of course, a casual observer may note that understanding Napster and the technicalities of the Internet is not really important – rather, the point is that people are using this technology to steal from the band. Yet the evident lack of knowledge regarding music technology is at the heart of not only Metallica’s fundamental misunderstanding of music delivery on the Internet, but the music industry’s as well. Moreover, the industry and Metallica seem unable or unwilling to address the issue of how antiquated copyright law is less than effective when applied to virtual music. Instead of coming to terms with these new technologies and delivery methods, the RIAA and Metallica seem locked in a destructive and counterproductive litigation mode they cannot possibly win in the long run. Even if they are initially successful, as with the lawsuit against MP3.com, in the end they will lose because a generation of music lovers are moving rapidly to on-demand and lower cost (even free) music via the Internet. Monopolies and cartels, of course, are the last to respond the market forces, believing instead that they can effectuate change by endless government petition, litigation, court order, and intimidation. As the industry and spoiled rock musicians fume, lost in disarray over efficacious responses to the challenges posed by emerging technology, the new channels and devices for virtual music delivery advance at a swift pace. For instance, netDrives' Brujo – a device that allows MP3 files on CD-R to be played on a home stereo – has moved Napster-captured MP3s from the computer to the home stereo. Unfortunately, for Lars Ulrich and the recording industry, the longer they wait and snarl, throwing good money at lawyers who can only postpone the inevitable, the farther behind the wave they will be.
 Chris Nelson, Metallica Call For Law And Order Online During Chat With Fans, Sonicnet.com, May 2, 2000, http://www.addict.com/MNOTW/lofi/
 Global Internet Statistics, Global Reach, http://www.glreach.com/globstats/index.php3
 The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Communications Decency Act, respectively.
 Congressional statement, March 28, 2000, http://www.fbi.gov/pressrm/ congress/congress00/cyber032800.htm
 Operation Counter Copy, http://www.fbi.gov/majcases/ copy/copy.htm
 Symonx, Metallica chat backfires: fans pissed, May 2, 2000, http://www.layer3news.org/showarticle.php?id=2536
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