Metallica plays Capitol Hill

Drummer Lars Ulrich schools senators on the evils of Napster, on theft and on the American dream.

Published July 12, 2000 6:35PM (EDT)

Who would've guessed that heavy-metal rockers would turn to graying senators to protect their interests? Well, now that members of Congress are listening to grunge tunes -- downloaded from Gnutella by their aides -- as an official order of business, all bets are off.

Tuesday was surely an entertaining day for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on digital music downloads. As part of their education on MP3-swapping technologies like Napster, Gnutella and Freenet, the senators heard testimony from Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, CEO Michael Robertson and Napster CEO Hank Barry, among others. Did no one think to invite Courtney Love?

Ulrich told the committee about his American dream come true and how it is threatened by Napster. Here's his testimony:

Mr. Chairman, my name is Lars Ulrich. I was born in Denmark. In 1980, as a teenager, my parents and I came to America. I started a band named Metallica in 1981 with my best friend James Hetfield. By 1983 we had released our first record, and by 1985 we were no longer living below the poverty line. Since then, we've been very fortunate to achieve a great level of success in the music business throughout the world. It's the classic American dream come true. I'm very honored to be here in this country, and I'm very honored to appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Earlier this year, while completing work on a song for the movie "Mission Impossible 2," we were startled to hear reports that five or six versions of our work-in-progress were already being played on some U.S radio stations. We traced the source of this leak to a corporation called Napster. Additionally, we learned that all of our previously recorded copyrighted songs were, via Napster, available for anyone around the world to download from the Internet in a digital format known as MP3.

In fact, in a 48-hour period where we monitored Napster over 300,000 users made 1.4 million free downloads of Metallica's music. Napster hijacked our music without asking. They never sought our permission. Our catalog of music simply became available for free downloads on the Napster system.

I do not have a problem with any artist voluntarily distributing his or her songs through any means that artist so chooses. But just like a carpenter who crafts a table gets to decide whether he wants to keep it, sell it or give it away, shouldn't we have the same options? We should decide what happens to our music, not a company with no rights in our recordings, which has never invested a penny in our music or had anything to do with its creation. The choice has been taken away from us.

With Napster, every song by every artist is available for download at no cost and, of course, with no payment to the artist, the songwriter or the copyright holder. If you're not fortunate enough to own a computer, there's only one way to assemble a music collection the equivalent of a Napster user's: theft. Walk into a record store, grab what you want and walk out. The difference is that the familiar phrase "file's done," is now replaced by another familiar phrase -- "You're under arrest."

Since what I do is make music, let's talk about the recording artist for a moment. When Metallica makes an album we spend many months and many hundreds of thousands of our own dollars writing and recording. We typically employ a record producer, recording engineers, programmers, assistants and, occasionally, other musicians. We rent time for months at recording studios which are owned by small business men who have risked their own capital to buy, maintain and constantly upgrade very expensive equipment and facilities. Our record releases are supported by hundreds of record company employees and provide programming for numerous radio and television stations. Add it all up and you have an industry with many jobs -- a few glamorous ones like ours -- and lots more covering all levels of the pay scale and providing wages which support families and contribute to our economy.

Remember, too, that my band, Metallica, is fortunate enough to make a great living from what we do. Most artists are barely earning a decent wage and need every source of revenue available to scrape by. Also keep in mind that the primary source of income for most songwriters is from the sale of records. Every time a Napster enthusiast downloads a song, it takes money from the pockets of all these members of the creative community.

It is clear, then, that if music is free for downloading, the music industry is not viable. All the jobs I just talked about will be lost and the diverse voices of the artists will disappear. The argument I hear a lot, that "music should be free," must then mean that musicians should work for free. Nobody else works for free. Why should musicians?

In economic terms, music is referred to as intellectual property, as are films, television programs, books, computer software, video games and the like. As a nation, the United States has excelled in the creation of intellectual property, and collectively, it is this country's most valuable export.

The backbone for the success of our intellectual property business is the protection that Congress has provided with the copyright statutes. No information-based industry can thrive without this protection. For instance, our current political dialog with China is focused on how we must get that country to respect and enforce copyrights. How can we continue to take that position if we let our own copyright laws wither in the face of technology?

Make no mistake about it, Metallica is not anti-technology. When we made our first album, most records were on vinyl. By the late '80s, cassette sales accounted for over 50 percent of the market. Now, the compact disc dominates. If the next format is a form of downloading from the Internet with distribution and manufacturing savings passed on to the American consumer, then, of course, we will embrace that format, too.

But how can we embrace a new format and sell our music for a fair price when somebody, with a few lines of code, no investment costs, no creative input and no marketing expenses, simply gives it away? How does this square with the level playing field of the capitalist system? In Napster's brave new world, what free market economic models support our ability to compete? The touted "new paradigm" that the Internet gurus tell us we must adopt sounds to me like good, old-fashioned trafficking in stolen goods.

We have to find a way to welcome the technological advances and cost savings of the Internet. However, this must be done without destroying the artistic diversity and the international success that has made our intellectual property industries the greatest in the world. Allowing our copyright protections to deteriorate is, in my view, bad policy, both economically and artistically.

In closing, I'd like to underscore what I've spoken about today, I'd like to read from the "Terms of Use" section of the Napster Internet Web site. When you use Napster you are basically agreeing to a contract that includes the following terms:

"This Web site or any portion of this Web site may not be reproduced, duplicated, copied, sold, resold or otherwise exploited for any commercial purpose that is not expressly permitted by Napster."

"All Napster Web site design, text, graphics, the selection and arrangement thereof, and all Napster software are Copyright 1999/2000 Napster Inc."

Napster itself wants -- and surely deserves -- copyright and trademark protection. Metallica and other creators of music and intellectual property want, deserve and have a right to that same protection.

Finally, I'd just like to read to you from a recent New York Times column by Edward Rothstein:

"Information doesn't want to be free; only the transmission of information wants to be free. Information, like culture, is the result of a labor and devotion, investment and risk; it has a value. And nothing will lead to a more deafening cultural silence than ignoring that value and celebrating companies like Napster running amok."

Mr. Chairman, Senator Leahy, the title of today's hearing asks the question, "The Future of the Internet: Is there an Upside to Downloading?" My answer is yes. However, as I hope my remarks have made clear, this can only occur when artists' choices are respected and their creative efforts protected.

Thank you very much.

By Salon Staff

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