Even though well-over two decades have passed since the occasion, music fans, especially metal fans, still talk about Metallica taking legal action against Napster. This peer-to-peer sharing platform caused controversy and, ultimately, some backlash aimed at Metallica due to their decision to focus on people sharing these files as well. But in a new interview with Variety, Metallica’s lawyer Peter Paterno looked back at the whole thing, clearing things up for everyone.
What he touched upon in particular was the issue that a lot of people still disagree with the band taking legal action against Napster. Asked whether he was involved and whether he participated in suing fans for illegal downloading, he responded positively. And when asked whether he thinks it was far, he simply said “Yeah.” Peter further elaborated on the matter, saying:
“Because they were basically thieves! It’s not a popular opinion. The popular opinion now is a sort of revisionist history that we shouldn’t have sued Napster, we should have worked something out with them — well, no, there was nothing to work out with them. ‘You could have made a deal.‘ What was the deal? People were getting music for free.“
“It was really necessary in order to set the ground rules for what music is worth. Those fans aren’t fans — fans pay for music and appreciate its value. It’s like Dre said when we told him about Napster, he said, ‘I work 24/7 in the lab and these guys just steal it? Screw them.‘”
When the interviewer said that it’s “hard to disagree with that,” Peter added:
“Well, a lot of people do. A lot of people think that’s really a radical stance, but we went from a business that was doing $30 billion a year to doing a third of that in three or four years because of people’s creativity not being rewarded. I’ve never agreed with that.“
One of the things that eventually came out of the legendary legal battle between Metallica and Napster is the birth of modern-day music streaming services. When the interviewer said that it took industry about 15 years to “to really figure out streaming,” Peter reminded them that there was actually an attempt at that back in the day. He said:
“I don’t know if you remember, but they did try. They tried to develop this thing called Press Play, but record companies don’t do technology, they needed a technology company to figure it out. So I think was on some level inevitable that it went the way it did.
“And like I said, I think the key to all the lawsuits was to at least establish some ground rules about what you have to do in order to distribute music and have creators get paid for what they do.”
Although a huge portion of the music world wasn’t on Metallica’s side back in the day, plenty of artists ended up taking their words back and started praising Lars Ulrich for his actions. Metallica drummer also looked back at it after many years, explaining what he did right and wrong from today’s perspective.
Back in late 2020, Ulrich looked back on this legal battle and said:
“The whole Napster thing 20 years ago, when we woke up in the middle of that shitstorm, was the first time where we were not universally the good guy. That’s when I conditioned myself to stop paying attention [to online commentary].”
Further pressed about the whole thing and whether there are any regrets on his side, Lars responded:
“It was the strangest fucking summer. Because I was most on the front lines, it left me kind of shell-shocked. It really started more as a street fight. It was like, ‘Wait a minute, one of our songs [‘I Disappear’] is playing on a bunch of radio stations in the Midwest?'”
“It was a song we hadn’t released yet. So we started tracing it back, and it was like, ‘Napster, what the fuck?’ The environment we were brought up in was if somebody fucked with you, we’d just go after them. And then all of a sudden the lights came on, the whole world was watching.“
“It left certainly a pretty crazy taste in my mouth, especially because everybody was my friend: ‘You’re doing such a great job. We support you. What can I do to help you? Call me.’“
“And then, as soon as I was out there and I looked behind, there was not a single person behind me. Obviously, I had the support of the band, but it was really weird.”
Last year, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett also looked back on the matter, saying how Metallica warned everyone about what the whole Napster thing will enable. Reflecting on the streaming model today, which many artists are complaining about, he said:
“We warned everyone that this was gonna happen. We warned everyone that the music industry was gonna lose eighty percent of its net worth, power, and influence. When these monumental shifts come you just either fucking rattle the cage and get nothing done or you move forward.”
“There’s definitely a new way for getting music out there, but it isn’t as effective as the music industry pre-Napster. But we’re stuck with it. There needs to be some sort of midway point where the two come together, or another completely new model comes in.”
On a more positive note, he added:
“It is harder for these younger bands to get their music out there. I’ll tell you one thing: because of covid, there are upwards of half a billion new guitar players in the world, bro. That bodes very well for the future of music. It was inspirational for me just knowing there’s gonna be that many more musicians in the world trying to make great music.”
“There’s so much disorganization in the world right now, so much division. Music brings people together. Music organizes people and their thoughts. Maybe because there are more musicians it’ll make for a better future for everyone. I’m just being optimistic [laughs].”