If you don't know Napster or the controversy surrounding
it, you're probably not reading this right now. Still, it's fair
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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/
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
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 Nolo.com,
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!"
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.
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.
is really, really pissing me off
Lifted from Metallica's
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,
to Salon.com 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
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
He won't, I know, but it'd
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
May 12, 2000