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What Napster Means

An Open Letter to Metallica, et al.

This letter to Metallica, their management and their record label has been sent by e-mail in care of The Metallica Club, and to the best address I could find for Metallica's management company; with copies to be posted in the Usenet news groups and (in both of which concern regarding music and the Internet is evident, and in which I participate frequently). Anyone who wishes to express similar sentiments, publicly or privately, may feel free to copy any part of this text that is helpful.

Metallica, Q-Prime Management and Elektra Records
c/o The Metallica Club <>

Metallica, Q-Prime Management and Elektra Records
c/o Peter Mensch & Tony DiCioccio <>
Q-Prime Management, 729 7th AV FL 16, New York, NY 10019

8 June 2000

To Metallica, Q-Prime Management and Elektra Records:

While searching for information about Metallica’s action against Napster, I came across fan sites from which recordings, MIDIs, tabulature, photographs and even simple lyrics were removed at the demand of Metallica’s lawyers. As it happens, I’ve not yet had the pleasure of familiarity with Metallica’s music; in the wake of their actions against not only Napster, but their own fans as well, I shall not be disposed to gain such acquaintance.

Copyright and patent traditionally serve to strike a balance between the benefits for all citizens of open access to information, knowledge and culture, and the assurance of potential for profit from creative and intellectual work needed to make practical the investment of time and capital in the pursuit of art, science and technology. The privileges of copyright and patent have always been seen as limited rights, granted by government for the public good; yet recently, apologists for ever more stringent copyright and patent law would have us believe that some intrinsic right of property should thus be protected against usurpation by “thieves.” In terms of legal and social history, this is utter fiction. We must, of course, continue to balance the public and private values of the products of creative and intellectual endeavor; but just what balance we choose, and how we undertake to maintain it, will have far-reaching effect on our future.

If we choose the former paradigm, those in the business of producing and marketing creative works may have to struggle to find ways to compete favorably with what consumers can obtain without charge. This won't always be easy or painless; but the survivors will have adapted well to the native characteristics of the “digital millennium.”

If we choose the latter course, we will fight emerging technologies in an attempt to preserve an economic framework appropriate to an earlier time. We will create a network of rules and regulations that will be unintuitive to the ordinary people to whom they apply and will be enforceable only erratically, or by grossly intrusive measures. Many citizens will never internalize the purported ethic; and draconian measures will be necessary to counterbalance the relative infrequency with which violators can be identified and punished.

Surely none should be more aware of the threat of subjugating art and science to economics and law than artists and scientists themselves. Legislators will not necessarily lead us well; courts will not always tell us what is wise. As future practices are being forged, it is imperative that those most intimately involved with creative endeavor use the tools of technology and jurisprudence with care: both have the capacity to be destructive. Creative professionals — and the individuals and companies that profit from their efforts — are ill-advised to defend their wealth by attacking the broader interests of the arts and sciences from which it proceeds; for musicians to “protect” a “right of control” of dubious realizable value at the expense of alienating the fan base that supports them is either arrogant or ignorant. It is perhaps the case that some of Metallica’s fans have used technology irresponsibly; it is most certainly the case that Metallica are wielding copyright law irresponsibly.

I'm not a Napster user, but I am a music lover, and I use the Internet daily. The threat that overzealous pursuit of various “intellectual property rights” will in large measure transform what could be the world’s greatest public library into little more than the world’s biggest sales pitch looms constantly before us. I doubt that I am alone in finding myself little inclined to purchase the work of musicians whose grasp for control dominates their appreciation of their fans, and leads them to lose sight of hope for the future of art, science and technology in what could be a world almost without boundaries — or a world of perpetual struggle in enforcement and litigation.

Sincerely, [now]
Randall Joseph Fellmy
Chandler, AZ