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Senate hears Internet music spat

By JOHN BALZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 12, 2000


WASHINGTON -- Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Napster, a popular Internet file sharing software, had unfairly "hijacked" the group's music, revenues and artistic license.

Wearing a black coat and a thin gold chain, Ulrich was joined at the hearing by Roger McGuinn, co-founder of the Byrds; Shawn Fanning, the 19-year-old founder of Napster; and six other recording and Internet executives for a hearing to discuss the legal and commercial questions of downloading and distributing music off the Internet.

"We have to find a way to welcome the technological advances and cost savings of the Internet, while not destroying the artistic diversity and the international success that has made our intellectual property industries the greatest in the world," Ulrich said. "Allowing our copyright protections to deteriorate is, in my view, bad policy, both economically and artistically."

Since the software's launch barely seven months ago, Napster has been at the center of the debate over digital music and copyright law. The Internet application allows users to post any computer file -- music is by far the most common -- on their hard drives and share it with other users who are online at the same time.

Napster estimates that as many as 500,000 people log on and use the software every night. It is facing a lawsuit by the Recording Industry Association of America that accuses the company of encouraging its 20-million users to trade copyright music online without permission. But chief executive Hank Barry told the committee that Napster users are not committing copyright violations because they are sharing files, not selling them. As for whether Napster is operating illegally by providing the software to share files, the issue becomes more complex. The company has argued that it provides a means to obtain music, not the music, and therefore cannot be held responsible for the actions of its users.

Nearly all of the speakers insisted that it would be extremely difficult to create software or encryption codes that would prevent piracy and allow artists to receive royalties, but they agreed that for now legislation is unnecessary. The market, most agreed, will naturally work out the problem.

The notable exception was Ulrich, who said it is unlikely that artists and companies such as Napster will be able to work out their disagreements without government involvement. Metallica, a hard rock group, has sued Napster in an attempt to block users from downloading its music.

Although critics have accused the band of being motivated by greed, Ulrich defended the suit, saying it goes to the question of intellectual property rights. Anyone who downloads a song off the Internet takes away an artist's choice about how a song is presented and where it is distributed, he said.

Defending Napster against those who say it compromises artists' creativity, Barry said the site gives new artists a platform to reach more listeners and is helping to drive record sales.

His testimony cited studies showing that more than 28 percent of Napster users are likely to increase their CD purchases.

Gene Kan, a developer of Gnutella, another file-sharing software similar to Napster, said future technology will make piracy even more difficult to police. The 1997 graduate of University of California, Berkeley, who proclaimed himself a former "pirate," suggested that recording companies turn pirates into paying distributors by splitting the proceeds of downloaded music, as EMusic.com and MP3.com are doing.

McGuinn, who began offering his recordings to MP3.com in 1998, said he has been delighted with the royalty rate he receives when one of his songs is downloaded and the 20 percent increase in concert ticket sales that he said resulted from more people gaining access to his music.

In one of the hearing's lighter moments, committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has released his own CD of pop-religious tunes, joked that he had been listening to Metallica and that Ulrich "should get in touch with my lyricist."

"No," he added. "You don't need any help at all with your lyrics."

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