Middle-class Metallica: Bill 'em all

Ulrich made the comments, along with many others, during an hour-long Web chat on ArtistDirect.com, Metallica's first public interaction with fans since the band became the first to file suit against Napster.

In addition to suing Napster, Metallica announced today that today it will deliver to Napster's offices in San Mateo, California, the names of 335,435 individual users alleged to have swapped Metallica recordings on the Internet. The 60,000 pages of documents include a request that the users be removed from Napster's system as punishment for violating the band's copyrights.

The move personalised the Napster debate for many fans, and it led at least two reporters to wonder if they would be among those named in the list of violators.

Known for spitting in the face of conformity and dominant institutions, Metallica during the fan forum argued for US government intervention, sounding remarkably like middle-class parents trying to protect their retirement accounts.

"There has to be some laws and guidelines to go by before it gets too out of hand and sucks the life out of musicians who will stop making music," said James Hetfield, Metallica guitarist and singer.

The band also sought to dispel the notion that the only person responsible for the Napster phenomenon was the teenager who developed it, Shawn Fanning.

"Napster is a big machine," Hetfield said. "The person who invented Napster is an employee of the big machine as we speak. They're doing it for the potential IPOs (initial public offerings)."

But Ulrich pulled no punches as he stated the band's position: "The goal is clear and simple: Put Napster out of business."

Even as the band members admitted to being personally unfamiliar with the internet - "I've never been on any of these internet sites," Ulrich admitted - they seemed to be cognisant that MP3 technology isn't the problem. Nevertheless, they advocated government regulation of the Internet as the only way to protect artists' copyrights.

The intent of the Napster suit, explained Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, "is to spearhead some kind of activity within the powers that be - the government - to lay down the laws with the computer, to exercise some kind of control and govern the companies like Napster that steal outright from artists."

The band did manage to show some good humour during the discussion. When asked by a fan identified as "Destro_187" if he would be sued for trading Metallica MP3s, Ulrich responded, "We're going to send James (Hetfield) over to your house."

Aside from the pleadings of fans like "Patallizombie," who posted comments like, "Show some respect to the Gods of Metal," the chat reflected some disappointment that the "Gods" weren't coming down on the same side of the music-piracy controversy as their fans.

"Metallica has always felt fans are family," said Hetfield, who stressed that the band has no problem with bootleg recordings of its concerts.

"Your family just got a lot smaller," responded a chat participant identified as "tinman."

Ulrich, who has acted as band spokesman in Metallica's legal affairs, wrapped up the chat with thanks to supportive fans and a kiss-off for the ones who came away from the discussion feeling defeated.

"For the doubters out there, Metallica will carry on for the next 20 years," Ulrich said. "Whether you're around for the ride or not, that's your problem, not ours."

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