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Metallica makes peace with pirates?

September 12, 2008 |  8:24 pm

Cotownlogo_3 Metallica has come a long way since leading the charge against erstwhile file-swapping site Napster in 2000.

When a Paris record store allegedly started selling the band’s latest album, “Death Magnetic,” more than a week before its official Sept. 12 release date, drummer Lars Ulrich reacted in an uncharacteristic Zen-like fashion, telling a San Francisco radio station, “It’s 2008 and it’s part of how it is these days, so it’s fine. We’re happy.”

That's a decidedly different tune for Ulrich, who in 2000 said to The Times, "Everyone thinks this is about the money. It's not. I've got more money than I could spend in seven lifetimes. The issue is control. We want to control what we create."

That year, Metallica sued Napster along with a handful of universities for providing the technology that allowed 300,000 users to swap Metallica songs.

Metallica wasn’t alone in suing Napster — rapper Dr. Dre filed a similar suit, Madonna complained, and a coalition of record companies succeeded in shuttering the site — and it ultimately settled its suit. But the fight tarnished the band’s edgy reputation.

"They took a strong stance because they were a strong band," said Eric German, a partner at Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, a firm that represented the recording industry against Napster (but not Metallica). "It was the big guy at the bar sticking up for everyone else. They took a lot of heat, a real hit for something that was the honorable thing to do."

The band also refused to join a legitimate online retailer, iTunes, until five years after its launch. Still, the band has sold 5.2 million digital downloads and 50 million albums, making them the fifth highest-selling artists since 1991, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The aging metal rockers do seem to be getting hip to the way youths consume music now: “Death Magnetic” was released simultaneously today in stores, online and as a download on “Guitar Hero 3.” (A couple of singles came out early on iTunes.)

Last week, Ulrich praised all the little people in “YouTube world” who had posted their covers of Metallica songs. The band launched a channel highlighting fans’ work — including one who had already covered songs from “Death Magnetic.” While many musicians support such efforts, some, most notably Prince, have lashed out against user-generated content.


"They might just be thinking, 'If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em," German said. He noted that encouraging covers on YouTube "may very well be a wise understanding of their fan base. But it doesn’t mean it’s legal, in a blanket way, for this stuff to occur."

The band also launched its Mission: Metallica website in May, letting users create profiles and see behind-the-scenes footage of the band’s work. Users can also pay extra for various levels of access. “Death Magnetic” also has some variable pricing — a deluxe vinyl edition will cost fans $109 through Metallica’s website; the physical CD is $17.99, and a downloadable album is under $10 on iTunes and Amazon.

And -- oh -- you can also stream it for free on Napster.

-- Swati Pandey

Photo: Rock band Metallica   Credit: AFP/Getty Images