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Metallica sues Napster

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Corporate thrash rockers Metallica yesterday accused Napster of effectively trading in stolen goods when it filed a copyright infringement suit against the digital music seek, locate and download software company. Worse, the suit, filed with the US District Court for the Central District of California, claims Napster is a "corrupt organisation". In addition to the copyright infringement allegation, the suit cites the unlawful use of a digital audio interface device and states that Napster violated the US Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Metallica and the companies that publish its music and are assigned its copyrights, Creeping Death Music and the decidedly un-rock'n'roll sounding E/M Ventures, base their claims on the way Napster's software allows users to trade in illegal copies of the band's music across the Net. That, said the band's drummer, Lars Ulrich, is "in effect, trafficking in stolen goods. "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," he added. To be fair, Ulrich is laying it on a bit thick here, since Metallica, like most major acts, is as much a tight business organisation as an artistic endeavour, but broadly he has a point. "From a business standpoint, this is about piracy - aka taking something that doesn't belong to you; and that is morally and legally wrong," said the tub-thumper. Interestingly, Metallica's allegations are also made against a number of US universities - specifically the University of Southern California, Yale University and Indiana University - who originally banned the use of Napster on campus networks, but have since relented. Says the suit: "Napster has devised and distributed software whose sole purpose is to permit Napster to profit by abetting and encouraging the pirating of the creative efforts of the world's most admired and successful musical artists. Facilitating that effort are the hypocritical universities and colleges who could easily block this insidious and on going thievery scheme." It's certainly true that, in public at least, Universities' dislike of Napster had more to do with its log-jamming effect on their networks than its possible use in piracy. The irony here is that Napster was designed to aid the distribution of MP3 files, and MP3 has always been said by the format's proponents to be about taking the power of distribution away from the major labels and putting it back in the artists' hands. Clearly, as a band of artists, Metallica disagrees. And as an international business too, that goes double. Metallica's action is the second legal assault launched against Napster, which is currently the target of an anti-piracy suit brought by the Recording Industry Association of America, on behalf of its record label members. ®

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