Napster: Hypocrisy Part Two - May 28, 2000

There's more news about Napster today, as ZDNet News has published an article on the reaction of some Open Source leaders (Namely: Linus Torvalds and Larry Wall) to the Napster debate. The purpose of their statements was to support Metallica's lawsuit in defense of their copyright, but to criticize the RIAA's fear of new technology.

"Go, Metallica. Die, RIAA."
- Linus Torvalds (ZDNet May 22, 2000)

Let me first state that I am not backtracking on my original rant. I still believe that the actions of Lars Ulrich are completely hypocritical, and for that reason I will not support Metallica's actions regarding Napster. But I was surprised to see that some people feel that the Open Source philosophy is justification for piracy.

"Open source should be about giving away things voluntarily. When you force someone to give you something, it's no longer giving, it's stealing. Persons of leisurely moral growth often confuse giving with taking."
- Larry Wall (ZDNet May 22, 2000)

It may seem hypocritical for me to defend Napster, and yet refer to distributing mp3s with copyrighted material as piracy. Ultimately, this may be the case. Before we can state that with any confidence, though, its going to get a bit more complicated.

Those of you who read and understood the letter that Jeff Bezos of wrote about patents, will understand the importance of copyrights. Artists will not create and distribute their work in a world where their hard work can be stolen from them and redistributed with little or no acknowledgement for their efforts. Ultimately, the artist should have a right to decide how their art is presented to the world. They should have the right to say that they don't want to be on Napster.

How then can I say that Lars Ulrich is a hypocrite? Ultimately, my problem with him isn't that he doesn't want to have his music distributed on Napster. I see that as short sighted, but not really evil. My problem is the contradiction within his arguments against Napster. 'We don't want our music traded as a commodity! Now give us money, damnit! Fuck Napster!" (I have yet to hear Napster complaining that Metallica is infringing on their trademark with this merchandise)

According to one statement, Lars and Metallica encourage distributing recordings of live performances, or anything which has not been released commercially by Metallica. However, this is the real reason that Metallica is involved in this issue.

Metallica had versions of their track for the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack released via Napster before the song was even finished. Now, I can understand being upset by this. In fact, I think its pretty uncool. But the fact is that this would qualify as a live recording of a performance by Metallica which has not been commercially released. The issue that raised their awareness of Napster is something that they endorse, and they can't do anything about it without sounding bad, so they're just attacking Napster in general. Really bad form guys.

Making the situation worse, is the fact that Lars (A confessed neophyte AOL user) has no comprehension of the technology he is attacking. Time and again he has expressed anger at the fact that Napster did not contact Metallica asking their permission to distribute their tracks. Of course they didn't, Napster doesn't house any music. Napster is basically a glorified IRC chat server dedicated to mp3s. The people who are distributing Metallica are doing so in violation of Napster's terms of service, and without Napster's knowledge.

If Napster were like in the sense that it housed the music, then it would certainly be a simple process to remove Metallica tracks from the service. But the way Napster operates (by sharing out directories of mp3's on client computers), the only method of eliminating Metallica tracks from the service would be to institute filters on what can be searched for. Anyone who has studied censorware, knows that filtering software doesn't work. Things that should be filtered slip past, and things that should slip past get filtered.

For example, if I were musically inclined and I wrote a song called "Metallica can kiss my ass", then it would get picked up by the filtering software as containing the word "Metallica" and would be blocked from exchange on the service. But someone could simply rename "Metallica - Fade to Black.mp3" as "Metallika - Fade to Black.mp3" and it would get by.

So long as people want to get pirated material, the internet will be there to help them; with or without Napster.

Metallica is not open source. But Lars needs to wake up and smell the coffee. All he's serving to do is restrict personal freedom by encouraging new internet regulations, create a lot of angry former fans, and damage a company run by two twenty year olds.