Interview with Lars Ulrich

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Lars Ulrich is the drummer for Metallica; the band is suing Napster for copyright infringement.

What made you file suit against Napster?

This Napster thing came completely out of nowhere. We were recording a song for the "Mission: Impossible 2" soundtrack, and we got word that there were five or six versions -- works-in-progress -- playing on radio stations, and we weren't even finished with it. In these days, it just gets out. Probably 100 people had their hands on versions of Metallica. Somebody somewhere got drunk and got a really good idea: Let's send this to somebody. The upside [of the Internet] is that everybody can get ahold of somebody in a f---ing nanosecond. The downside is there are people who are in charge of things from a creative point of view who aren't done with it yet.

We found out it was Napster and we had to put our foot down. We never really approved it, we were never asked permission -- we were just dragged into it. It was time to step up to the plate and not wait for some other artist to take over.

We feel the point of this whole thing is not to deal directly with Napster but to deal with what issues are at stake here. The Internet is not the issue, the issue is who dictates what goes on with your work.

Some people say the controversy over downloadable music is really about who will control the music business -- the major labels and big artists, or the fans. Where do you come down?

Everybody comes from different points of view. Why do musicians do what they do? Some musicians do it for the money, some want to get laid, some just get off doing what they do. We don't do it for anyone else; we do it for ourselves. This isn't, "give the people what they want." This is us doing what we want to do, and if you want to take the ride with us, then do it -- within our parameters. At the end of the day, it's about what gets us off and how we want to play it.

Do you think the Internet is a realistic way for new bands to get known?

There's certain things you can't change. There's only 24 hours in a day. There's only so much attention each band could get on the Internet. The role of a record company is to promote and publicize one band over another. If somebody in a garage down the street from me wants to make their music available over the Internet, that's their choice. We look forward to using the Internet to get music to the fans, but on our conditions.

In your suit, you've asked for huge financial compensation from Napster. Has Napster really had any effect on your bottom line?

We've sold about a thousand gazillion records and we're glad that we're set for life, that we don't have to worry about sending the kids to school. The stuff that's being lost on the Internet, it's pocket change, it's meaningless. But where is it going to be in five years? This is something that could really be out of control.

Now people are sitting there with straight faces saying they deserve music for free. I think people are getting a little too comfortable with their computer as a tool and are taking it for granted. Should you just put Macworld on the Internet for free? Should artists charge society for what they provide? Well, maybe the next time I call my plumber, I should get his services for free. You get into an interesting discussion about the nature of capitalistic society.

We're paying more money paying our lawyers -- $500 an hour -- than we're losing on the Internet. If people think this is about greed, then they should think again.

What do you think of the bands -- Limp Bizkit, The Offspring, Public Enemy -- who have come out in favor of Napster?

If they're saying, 'Napster's my friend,' I think they're shortsighted and they're ignorant to the big, big picture. I think they will find themselves on the short end when the tide starts turning.

They're trying to make this Metallica vs. the fans. But it's really Metallica vs. Napster.

Every day I get more support from our fans. We've always had lots of people having lots of issues with what we do. Most of the naysayers are people who have something to complain about. We've received a lot of shit from people for a lot of years.

Is the music industry in its current form giving the fans what they want?

The industry as a whole is lagging behind in ways to get music from the musicians to the fans. But you can't blame them. Every three months, somebody's coming up with [an innovation] that will make what happens now seem obsolete.

One reason people are flocking to sites like Napster is because CDs cost so much. Do you think albums are too expensive?

That's a tough one to answer. I can understand people who say they're too expensive. But I also think that if they were too expensive, people wouldn't buy them. I get annoyed when I have to pay $17 for an album. But why should I pay the plumber $200 to stick a f---ing plastic thing down my toilet? It should cost $50. Where are you going to stop?

How do you think the Internet will change the music business? Who will be the winners and losers?

I think it will be pro-rated depending on how much music you get. I think it is the retailer who is going to suffer the most. Not everyone who works in the music industry is a guy smoking a cigar on the top of a 50-story office building. It affects those people who are making $6 an hour at Tower [Records].

Even if you take out Napster, there's Gnutella and plenty of other sites that are hopping on the free-music bandwagon. What difference is your suit really going to make?

If you can knock a provider out of business, then you can send a message to the others. I don't believe there's anybody doing this for free. Somebody is spending a lot of money hoping [Napster] will be an IPO or will be f---ing bought out by AOL. The people who work for Napster are bringing home paychecks. They aren't working for free -- this isn't about the good of the world.

If [free-music providers] can get with the legislative community, I'm sure something can be worked out that would be OK for everyone. I think Congress will be holding big hearings that will make the 6:00 news. And there'll be this f---er from Metallica telling these Internet companies what they should do.

What scares people is that we have deep pockets and we aren't afraid to keep suing company after company. We're like the f---ing Energizer bunny. We don't care what the public perception is. We're doing what we feel is right.

(Please also read our interview with Chuck D of Public Enemy about Napster.)

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