Metallica’s Lars Ulrich: ‘I Think We Could Have Educated Ourselves Better’ About Napster
The music landscape as we know it now looked a lot different back in 2000, when Metallica found themselves at the center of a very public dispute with the file-trading service Napster, and in a recent chat with Y92 in New York, drummer Lars Ulrich offered some hindsight on their thoughts at the time and how they might have handled things differently.
When the topic came up during the career-spanning chat, Ulrich stated, “To answer your question directly, I think we would have educated ourselves better about what the other side were thinking and what the real issues were, cause you’ve gotta remember, this started out as a street fight. This wasn’t about the future of music, this wasn’t about the music business, this had absolutely nothing to do with money. This was a back alley street fight.”
Ulrich went on to share how this conflict all started, with their co-manager Cliff Burnstein alerting them that their song “I Disappear” that they had been working on for the Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible II had leaked to radio stations. “We recorded it in between some touring commitments, and it was gonna be held back till the next summer. And so one day I got a call from Cliff saying ‘I Disappear’ is being played on 20 radio stations across America, and we’re, like, ‘How the fuck is this possible?’ And he said there’s something called Napster where people can go and share. And we’re, like, ‘How the hell did they get ‘I Disappear’? It lives in our vault somewhere,'” recalled Ulrich.
“So we traced it back to this company Napster, and as you did in those days, it was, like, ‘Well, let’s go fuck with Napster then.’ So just like these five bright lights on me, and I can’t actually see any of you guys, all of a sudden, we were caught in these lights and we’re standing out in the middle going, ‘Oops.’ I guess Napster means a lot to a lot of people, and so we were caught a little bit off guard with that, and then we sort of had to figure out how we were gonna play it,” explained the drummer.
Ulrich added that it was an interesting spot to be in as the band had been “pro bootlegging” at the time, with fans allowed to bring their recording devices and tape the band’s shows. “We were all tape traders, and we were totally pro all this stuff,” the drummer stated, “But the thing that blew our minds about Napster was we couldn’t wrap our heads around, ‘Why did nobody from Napster call and go, ‘Are you okay with us doing this?’ Because then it was a conversation. But they did this without checking in with us. And that was the part that we couldn’t understand, that was where I think we could have educated ourselves better about how all of this worked and what it meant to people, because all of a sudden, we were standing out there going… And then we were caught in a shitstorm and people were, like, ‘Metallica, they’re really greedy and money hungry,’ and it had nothing — nothing — to do with money whatsoever. It was just about, ‘Wait a minute! If we’re gonna give away our music, which we don’t mind doing, maybe we should do it, or maybe somebody should ask our permission.’ That was it. And then that back-alley street fight went public and worldwide and then we were completely caught off guard.”
Back at the turn of the century, Metallica filed a lawsuit accusing Napster of copyright infringement and racketeering, but over time the music industry changed and Napster became a subscription service. And, in 2016, the onetime rivals came together to allow Metallica’s catalogue to be available through Napster.
You can check out more of Ulrich’s conversation with Y92 at this location.
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