Napster Users. Metallica Has Your Name.

by Robert Menta 5/03/00

Napster has always claimed that while they are nothing more than a directory for trading files, they would eject users who are identified as copyright violators. It was a transparent offer, after all there were now millions of users and the logistics of identifying specific violators was all but unwieldy, right


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Guess what? Looks like those logistics were less difficult to overcome than Napster thought.

This Wednesday, Metallica's Lars Ulrich will show up personally at Napster's office and deliver 60,000 pages containing 335,435 names of individuals who they allege violated copyright laws by posting the band's music on the service. He will then call Napster on their bluff and ask that these names be removed from the service.

Napster could not be immediately reached for comment.

NetPD, a consulting company that the band's lawyer, Howard King, hired to monitor the site, gathered the names over a two day period between April 28 and April 30.

"I don't know if this will put a chill on the user end," said King. " But it certainly is going to show other artists what they can do to get their work out of Napster".

It is doubtful that Napster will follow through on their promise to excise these names - a third of a million users is a healthy percentage of their audience - until their court case with the RIAA comes to a verdict. But there is another issue here that is of concern. Privacy.

In just a few days, the band, their lawyer, and their lawyer's other clients have in their possession 300,000 plus names. Other groups can now repeat this same process and what they do with this information could be invasive. This certainly creates cause for concern.

Will users be sued?

But let us stay on this case. King said the names were not being added to the lawsuit against Napster, but he did not rule out naming users as defendants.

As a skilled litigator, all this is part of Kings plan to dissuade people from using Napster by adding an element of risk. Indeed, the threat itself might turn out to be quite effective, but to truly get the message across a few examples may need to be chosen.

The reality is the victims at the conclusion of this passion play won't be Napster, Metallica or any of King's other clients like Dr. Dre. In the end, it may be a dozen randomly selected users, people whose crime may be nothing more than being oblivious to the politics involved in downloading the music of the artists they adore, and who must now trade tuition for legal fees.

Needless to say, these "defendants" will likely find themselves in the unenviable position of copping a felony plea as the lesser of two evils, financial ruin being the other choice. Ultimately, they may settle for no fines or jail time, a little community service and a criminal record that will haunt them every time they fill out an employment application. As felons, they also lose the right to vote.

The power of MP3 derives from it being embraced as a grass roots movement by users throughout the Net. With what's involved in the struggle to control the potential billions of dollars the world of Internet music, curtailing this movement would prove very profitable.

That's a tall order. So tall that the actions used to rein it in may turn vicious, and THAT is what makes Metallica's acquisition of those names scary even though they probably will do nothing more with it than drop it on Napster's steps and leave it there.

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