After the week Napster just suffered, the controversial MP3 music-swapping software could use a little good news. On Monday it came in the form of rap-metal band Limp Bizkit, which announced that a four-week summer tour would be sponsored by Napster -- and that admission to the shows would be free.
The sponsorship was valued at $2 million and sure to be a public relations bonanza for both the group and the company. But in the long run it may be only a brief respite from the flow of lawsuits that continue to wash up on Napster's door; Dr. Dre's attorney confirmed today that the rap artist would file his own suit against the company Tuesday.
At a press conference held Monday to announce details for the July-August outing, which will also feature the rap act Cypress Hill, Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst said the band, whose latest album has been certified platinum six times, wanted to give something back to the fans, and that a unique all-free tour would be the best way. In effect the bands will be working for free while Napster foots the bill for expenses.
The band's alliance with the renegade software company is bound to irritate some fellow artists as well as the music industry executives who in recent weeks have become increasingly united in their opposition to Napster; they claim the service invites users to download music files illegally without recompense to artists. The metal band Metallica became the first act to file suit against Napster, charging the company with copyright infringement. The Recording Industry Association of America has its own Napster suit going; a federal judge in San Francisco is expected to rule soon on Napster's pending request for dismissal.
Durst, a savvy businessman who also holds V.P. stripes at Interscope Records, doesn't see it that way. "We believe that the Internet and Napster should not be ignored by the music industry as tools to promote awareness for bands and [to] market music," the lead singer said in statement. "We could care less about the older generation's need to keep doing business as usual, we care more about what our fans want and our fans want music on the Internet."
Durst's reference to "the older generation" was a not-so-subtle dig at the veteran heavy metal purveyors of Metallica. That band's spokesperson declined to comment, but at least one record company president says Limp Bizkit has positioned itself well. "What side would you rather be on?" asks the label chief. "Metallica's on the wrong side of the issue. They're on the side of the RIAA and the big bad record companies, while Limp Bizkit's on the side of the kids. It's great fucking imaging: new school vs. old school. Even if Limp Bizkit's faking it, they're going to look great. My hats off to the guys."
No doubt Napster will collect lots of goodwill, too, when Limp Bizkit fans realize their free admission came courtesy of the software company. As veteran artists manager Ron Stone points out, it was just one year ago that MP3.com successfully parlayed a high-profile summer sponsorship into business superstardom. "MP3.com legitimized itself when it sponsored Alanis Morissette's tour, that put them on the map." Napster executives were not available for comment.
Does Limp Bizkit's move signal an emerging split among recording artists, with the fault line drawn around Napster, pro and con?
Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the RIAA, doesn't think so. "Napster must really want some artists on their side. Are they going to pay them all $2 million?" she asks. "I think the multitude of artists that have been speaking out against them on this issue speaks for itself."
Rosen may be right. Last week Dr. Dre followed up Metallica's legal maneuverings by demanding Napster remove his songs from the service. (Technically, Napster doesn't control the actual music; it's merely a program for transferring music files.) Unhappy with what he called Napster's "comical" response, Dre's lawyer, Howard King, said the rapper would file his own suit against the company in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Still, the lines of Napster allegiance within the industry continue to get tangled. For instance, Napster's most public supporter (Limp Bizkit) and foe (Dr. Dre) both record for Interscope. And later this summer, Metallica, managed by Q Prime and its outspoken Napster critic Cliff Bernstein, is going on the road for a stadium tour with Korn, managed by the Firm, the same management company that helped broker Napster's generous deal with Limp Bizkit.