June 3, 2003 1:49 PM PDT

Metallica strikes new Net chord

When it comes to Net music downloaders, hard-rock band Metallica has mellowed out.

The longtime opponents of Internet piracy, who sued file-swapping network Napster in federal court, are promoting downloads of their songs via Metallicavault.com, a Web site set to launch Thursday.

But the site will be free only to people who buy the band's upcoming album, "St. Anger," scheduled for release the same day. The CD inset will include a unique code that people can use to access the site's video of live performances and download newly released tracks.

"We've always wanted our fans to experience our music online," Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich said in a statement. "But up until now, the existing distribution methods have not passed the kind of 'quality' standards our fans have come to expect from us."

Its anti-Net phase now apparently over, Metallica joins with other innovative musicians and recording labels using the Web to promote albums. Wilco, for example, allowed downloads of its "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel" album for much of the year before its release and made its follow-up album available free on Wilcoworld.net. Madonna created huge buzz when she sold her "American Life" single on Madonna.com.

When file-swapping exploded in peer-to-peer communities such as Napster, the members of Metallica were among the first artists to lash out. The band sued Napster in April 2000; and at the time, it fingered more than 335,000 Napster screen names for sharing Metallica songs online illegally. The band wasn't threatening to sue the software users, but demanded that Napster block them from its MP3-swapping service.

"Napster has built a business based on large-scale piracy. Facilitating that are hypocritical universities and colleges who could easily block this insidious and ongoing thievery scheme," the Metallica lawsuit said.

Despite the heated charges, the band now says its early grievances were merely about the quality of music offered through Napster file-swapping, not about the theft. Metallica's suit was later combined with many other similar suits against Napster, which were resolved when a federal judge ordered Napster to block copyrighted music files.

The band's upcoming Web site and CD will still likely let people get bonus material and music for free. For example, people could share their unique code with friends or they could share digital downloads of music files from the site. But Speakeasy, the Web site's broadband service provider, said that if say, a million people are accessing the site with the same code, it will move to address that.

The site, which was built by Speakeasy, will initially feature three 60-minute Metallica performances via streaming video. Fans will also be able to download and share MP3 music files of rare and unreleased Metallica music, chosen by the band. The site will offer new material monthly. Metallica's record label moved up the album release date five days because of piracy concerns.

 

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