Stupid Musicians

If you don't know Napster or the controversy surrounding it, you're probably not reading this right now. Still, it's fair to recount:

Shawn Fanning, a 19-year-old college student, creates Napster, a program that lets users connect with other users and swap music files. Within a matter of months, Napster becomes a potential cash cow. The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the five major music labels, sees control of music on the Internet slipping through its greedy fat fingers and sues.

All very typical, all very expected: The big corporate crush lashing out against the future in order to secure its domination of the market.

And then the sell-out musicians start whining.

Musicians like Scott Sapp (you don't recognize his name, but he's the lead singer of that crappy grunge-wannabe band, Creed) have complained in a major way about being screwed out of major moolah.


Meanwhile, Dr. Dre and the band Metallica have both filed lawsuits against Napster. Dre has said, "I don't like people stealing my music," even as he's under legal attack for stealing someone else's sound. Metallica cites some weird reasoning for their lawsuit, something about their art not being treated as the art it is but as a commodity, even though they're suing about their commodity being given away for free.

Or something.

It's one thing that the RIAA gets fussy when someone nudges in on its iron-fisted grip on the music industry -- you expect them to sue, because that's all they ever do, and that's all they're expected to do. They're suits with wallets for hearts and bank vaults for brains. The people at the RIAA don't pretend otherwise, and shrug at being labeled the evil music slave-masters of the galactic sector, also known as The Bad Guys. That's their job.

The artists coming out against Napster, on the other hand, are often the very violators they claim to detest. And that pisses me off.


Who's Violating What?
Out of all the artists who are condemning Napster, Scott Sapp, lead singer for the pseudo rock band Creed, makes an ass of himself the best:

"It has been taboo for artists to speak out concerning the business side of their music. The fear has been that the buying public, as well as other artists, would perceive this concern as greed, and that the artists' sole purpose for creating was the money. This perception has silenced many artists concerning MP3 and Napster. The silence must end."

Sapp actually said this. Or, maybe the RIAA prompted him. Actually, I'd bet on the RIAA.

Doesn't matter, though, because both have got it wrong. This "silence" served a much more important function -- for people like Sapp and the labels. When an entire industry completely depends on ripping off real artists, or worse, ripping off other copyright violators by emulating the emulators, talks of copyright infringement begin to sound a bit hollow.

Take Creed.

Creed, like many corporate puppet-slash-whore bands, owns copyrights to music they didn't create, to lyrics they didn't write. You will not find one rift or lyric in their "music" that was not already created by another musician or band. Take, for example, the chorus of Creed's "With Arms Wide Open" and compare it to the chorus of Journey's "Open Arms."

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I'll show you everything
With arms wide open

Written by Tremonti/
Stapp 1999

So now I come to you,
with open arms
Nothing to hide,
believe what I say
So here I am
with open arms
Hoping you'll see
what your love means to me
Open arms

Written by Perry/Cain

Okay, it's not exactly the same sentiment, but it's damn close -- the similarity is more than blatant. Even if Creed didn't deliberately borrow from Journey's material, Journey would be completely justified in feeling ripped off. And whatever band Journey originally copied may feel robbed, too.

Bands and musicians can -- and do -- play fast and loose with copyright law. As, a do-law-yourself website, shows, no one needs to be very creative (and in fact can pretty much rip off another artist) in order to receive copyright protection. But Nolo also indicates that you'll never know when the copyright laws will bite you in the ass -- and you'd best keep your mouth shut rather than be taken to court by an irate artist from whom you've been stealing music.

That's why artists generally don't discuss copyright violations.

That, and the hypocrisy involved when they do.


Master of Puppets

The RIAA generously donates a list of quotes from artists and their support people here -- it's rather slim, and you know they're getting desperate when they start quoting musicians' personal managers rather than the artists themselves.

Then again, maybe they supplied those quotes themselves. Apparently, the RIAA provided artists with a list of stock one-liners concerning Napster, which explains why Scott Sapp sounds so intellectual, even as his flat, dim eyes cry out, "I'm nothin' but a big chimp who wants his bananna!"


What They Say Ain't What They Do
What is really bothering me about this witch hunt are the double standards involved:

First, musicians regularly take music and lyrics developed by other musicians and make them their own, like Creed (though Creed is hardly alone in this practice), then complain when they're not paid for their "work."

Second, musicians who get caught stealing -- and are subsequently sued for copyright theft -- still want to be paid for their "work." Take Dr. Dre, for instance.

Dr. Dre, who has said "I don't like people stealing my music," is suing Napster for copyright violations, even as he must defend himself in court from George Lucas' Lucasfilms. Dre stole the classic "THX Deep Note" that gets blasted at you when you're in a THX-equipped theater, and put it on his own album, Dr Dre 2001.

But, dammit, my third point really gets me riled: Musicians like Sapp and Dre act as if they've never taped an album, cassette, or CD.

They have. They all have.

These self-righteous music whores have violated the very copyright laws with which they are attempting to work over Napster.

Can you imagine that any artist actually sent Joy Division or the Bee Gees or The Gap Band a few bucks when they illegally produced bootleg copies of their work, with a note reading, "I copied your album, here's some cash to offset the cost,"?

Me neither. Nor can Metallica.


Metallica is really, really pissing me off
Lifted from Metallica's press release concerning the lawsuit the band launched against Napster:

Says Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich... "We take our craft -- whether it be the music, the lyrics, or the photos and artwork -- very seriously, as do most artists. It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is. From a business standpoint, this is about piracy -- a/k/a taking something that doesn't belong to you; and that is morally and legally wrong. The trading of such information -- whether it's music, videos, photos, or whatever -- is, in effect, trafficking in stolen goods."

Ugh. There's nothing worse than a drummer discussing "art v. commodity," especially when he's so freaking confused about the issue at hand: "It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is."

The whole point of your suit against Napster, Lars, is that you're losing money on your product -- a commodity that people are trading rather than buying. If it were a matter of art, Lars, you wouldn't have a suit against Napster, because the only people downloading your music would be those who appreciate your art, Lars.

Besides, I gotta take you to task for being an absolute, complete and total hypocrite, Lars.

A letter to from one irate fan reveals something interesting:

In the liner notes for one of Metallica's newer CDs, "Garage Inc.," lead singer James Hetfield explains that when he first met Lars Ulrich, he would "stay over at his house for days making tapes of his records and sleeping on the carpet."

What?! Isn't that the very copyright infringement that they are suing Napster for today? Wow, how times have changed for this band. -- David Martin

You think I'm making this up -- but I have a better imagination than this. I wouldn't create something that was so baffling unreal that my fans would be scratching their heads and left to wonder, "What, does he think we're that stupid?"

But people can be that stupid. Especially successful musicians who -- once they're in the limelight and lighting Cuban cigars with $100 bills -- have very little to do with normal everyday life and often divorce themselves from reality.

Lars Ulrich, defender of musician's rights, is a copyright violator. He stole music, music he didn't pay for, from Abba or the Jackson Five or whomever he and Hetfield were into at the time.

They aren't alone. Every musician has recorded music that they never paid for.

And now Metallica is suing Napster for providing a service that lets people do what they were doing themselves. Whatever.

Naysayers will say something about the difference in sound quality, or argue that the numbers involved are much different. But sophisticated bootleg-recording operations have been around for years and haven't garnered this kind of attention from musicians. And arguing that Lars recording one album is different from a thousand downloads is simply arguing degree -- no matter how "harmless" Lars' crimes were, that doesn't mitigate the fact that he broke copyright laws.

No, the reasoning behind the lawsuits is pretty simple.

(But before we get into that, I want to say that I fully expect Lars to contact all the artists he ripped off, including Olivia Newton John, and compensate them fairly.

He won't, I know, but it'd be nice.)

Of course, fans and nonfans aren't taking it. Protest sites abound. Some are just jabs, like this screenshot of an eBay auction. Others are full-blown sites, like metallicasucks and MetallicaBoycott.

Some reactions are good for a quick laugh, while others involve investing mucho time making movies.

And some sites are simply inspired. PayLars is ingenius, while Metallicster could possibly be the biggest embarassment yet for Metallica -- if it gets off the ground.

So, what's really going on?
Most musicians have not said anything about Napster. Most musicians probably realize that condemning Napster and calling for more control of music by the Big Five of the industry (Sony, EMI, BMG, Universal, and Warner) would make them corporate stoolies.

They're right.

On the one hand, bands like Creed already were already puppets of the music industry. Creed not doing what BMG wants them to do is as likely as Britney Spears telling Disney, "Fuck off, I'm not going on that magazine cover half naked when I'm only 17." Yeah, not likely at all.

On the other hand, Metallica has, in one stroke, destroyed its image of rebelling against the establishment. In the past, they allowed fans to record their concerts; they sued Time Warner for control of their own music; their first album, Kill 'Em All, expressed what they wanted to do to the music industry's power suits. Metallica had a quality of walking the fine line between law and jail, a quality that didn't come across as a style, like most rebel rockers, but as substance. They were veritable heroes of the genre and the industry.

That's all gone now. Metallica will always be remembered as the biggest of the bands that threw their weight behind the corporations, calling for "legally" obtained music (despite their hypocrisy).

Instead of fighting against The Man, Metallica became thugs for The Man.

But why did Metallica alienate fans, dump their rebel image, and show their corporate colors? The explanations they supply just don't ring true, given that they also have violated the same laws with which they want to crucify Napster.

The problem is, despite Metallica's history of "screwing The Man," and whatever else the band has done to make you think they're independent -- they're not.

In the end, Metallica is dependent on being distributed by the record labels. And when something really matters to the labels, and when big suits really want you to do something, you're gonna do it, or you won't be in business much longer.

And God forbid that Metallica should bite the bullet rather than chuck their image or reputation. That'd smack of the Ghandiesque.

-- Brent Johnson,
May 12, 2000


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