Season 3, Ep. 22 – TWiTH: Metallica sues Napster, with Victoria Stahr, Developer Experience Coordinator at Gun.io
For the majority of us, streaming music is about the only way we listen to it. But when Napster hit the web in the late 90’s, it was the first service to expand on that horizon, and not everyone was happy about it. This week, Faith and Victoria talk about Metallica suing Napster, and the effects it had on the industry, the platform, and the way we get music today.
(THE FRONTIER THEME PLAYS AND FADES OUT)
Hi. There is…oh my god, hold on. My dog is about to roll in chicken shit! Frodo! (Victoria: <Laugh>. Oh, good.) <Laugh>. When I tell you..oh my god, he’s covered in it. (Victoria: Oh no.) Oh no. He’s like at the door. He’s like, “How proud…” (Victoria: “Look at me!”) He’s like, “Look!”
And you just got him clean yesterday! Bummer!
Literally. (Victoria: <Laugh>.) When I calculate my annual budget for my own grooming and my dog’s grooming, I spend easily three times as much (Victoria: Yeah.) on his haircuts than I do my haircuts. (Victoria: Oh no.) Yeah, I…oh, oh, (Victoria: <Laugh>.) my standing desk has a mind of its own. This is already…this is off to a good start. This is gonna be fun. (Victoria: <Laugh>.) Also, there is a screaming chicken in the background, so that’s great.
I don’t hear it, so I think you’re good.
She is like, standing on the little perch and it’s like, comical. Just head back screaming. <Cough>. It’s a fun day over here.
I’m sure the neighbors love it.
<Laugh>. Thankfully she’s not a rooster, so it’s not like, illegal. She’s just like…
<Laugh>. It’s below the sound decibel of…<laugh>.
Yeah, she’s super bossy. How’s your Thursday? How are you doing?
It’s great. I’m in Colorado. (Faith: Oh my gosh!) These are sun blocking curtains; otherwise I would be an angel. So I went for a hike this morning, saw the sunrise.
Ah, what <whisper>? That is so nice.
We’ll probably do one, yeah, after work. It’s a little bit weird; I’m still working central hours, since all my meetings are like, sort of scheduled like that, and so this morning, when we woke up to go on a hike, it was like, 5:00 a.m. (Faith: Oh my god.) <Laugh>. I was like, I guess, technically, it’s 6 at home, so this feels kinda normal, but looking at the time… (Faith: it’s painful.) Yeah <laugh>.
It’s painful. I get up twice a week to go do a workout, and every time…when the alarm goes off at like 4:45, (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) that’s a line that I think I shouldn’t cross, (Victoria: No.) you know? Nobody needs to be up before 5:00 a.m.
I really don’t think so. <Laugh>.
But I also am such a morning person. Like, I love…I don’t know, I’m most productive before work, ‘cause after work, all I wanna do is cook dinner and go to bed immediately.
I feel like I’m the opposite. I’m a better night person.
I know this about you.
<Laugh>. You see my icon is green. It’s me at like, 11:00 p.m.
This is why you’re the perfect person to talk to about our “This Week in Tech History” historic event. Obviously, it’s because you’re a night owl, (Victoria: That’s right.) which means that you are an ideal person to love live music (Victoria: Yes.) and music in general. This is where we differ. (Victoria: <Laugh>.) I love live music, but I like it as like, an idea <laugh>.
<Laugh>. If it could end by 8:00 p.m., that’d be great <laugh>.
Yeah. Who said, oh god, it was like, in an Oscars like, red carpet interview, and they were like, “Why aren’t there matinee shows? Like, I wanna see a concert at 2:00 p.m.”
Fun fact for you: sometimes there will be like, kind of, daytime shows at the OG Basement, (Faith: Oooo.) where they start at like 5:00 p.m.
That is what I’m talking about. (Victoria: Yeah.) That’s what I can do.
I’ve been to a few, and let me tell you, they’re still good, but you get home at a normal time, (Faith: Ahh.) can make dinner, and go to bed <laugh>.
Oh my god. I’ll tell you what, my favorite way to spend a Friday is to like, immediately after our happy hour, run outta here, go to a restaurant, like, Xiao Bao is where we’ve been going, (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) be like, the first ones seated, have a like, stupid early dinner, and we are home in bed at like, 7:30 or 8:00. It is (Victoria: Sounds great <laugh>.) so nice. So this is who I am. Thankfully we have, we have two different perspectives here. (Victoria: <Laugh>.) Victoria, here’s what’s happening this week in tech history: Metallica sued Napster. (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC FADES IN)
Lars Ulrich, via 2000 VMA anti-Napster skit (04:23):
What the hell do you think you’re doing, man?
Marlon Wayans, via 2000 anti-Napster skit (04:25):
Holy crap. Do you know who you are? You’re freaking Lars Ulrich from Metallica! I love everything you do, except for that bad show you’re hostin’.
Lars Ulrich (04:37):
You know what? Maybe I wouldn’t have to (BLEEP) myself out if you (BLEEP) kids didn’t steal my music.
Marlon Wayans (04:41):
On April 13th of 2000, Metallica filed a lawsuit against the file sharing company, Napster. We all know Napster. Metallica alleged that Napster was guilty of copyright infringement and racketeering, that seems dramatic, as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Metallica v. Napster, Incorporated was the first highly publicized instance of an artist suing a P2P, never heard of that, person-to-person, (Victoria: <Laugh>.) software company and encouraged several other high profile artists to sue Napster. It began as a way for a 19-year-old kid, I did not know this, named Shawn Fanning, to share MP3s with his group of friends. Imagine like, accidentally creating a multimillion dollar company (Victoria: Oh yeah.) at 19. In an effort to increase the amount of music they had access to, they allowed other people to join and share files. Napster functioned as the hub, while the files themselves were downloaded from the user who owned the original. It went live in September of 1999, and by February of 2001, it had 80 million monthly users. Oh my god. (Victoria: <Laugh>.) At its peak, it facilitated 2 billion downloads a month and had a net worth of $60 to $80 million, which should be $100 to $135 million today.
Lars Ulrich, via Metallica v. Napster, Inc. testification (06:00):
Earlier this year, while completing work on a song for the movie Mission Impossible 2, we were startled to hear reports that five or six versions of our work in progress were already being played on some US radio stations. We traced the source of this leak to a corporation called “Napster”.
Voice actor, via CampChaos satire cartoon (06:16):
(MIDI HEAVY METAL MUSIC) Money, good! Napster, bad!
Voice actor as Lars Ulrich, via South Park clip (06:20):
Hey, are you the guys protesting free internet music downloading?
Voice actor as Stan Marsh, via South Park clip (06:24):
Hey, it’s that Lars Ulrich guy.
Voice actor as Lars Ulrich (06:26):
That’s right. Metallica is behind you dudes a thousand percent!
Voice actor as James Hetfield, via South Park clip (06:30):
We’re gonna sit here and protest with you until free downloadin’ stops, yeh!
The end result of Metallica’s original court case was nothing short of catastrophic for Napster. Yikes. The judge ruled in their favor, “their” meaning Metallica’s favor, and gave Napster 72 hours to remove all Metallica songs from their platform, as well as banning over 300,000 people who had shared the band’s songs. Imagine having 72 hours, like, going back to your team and being like, “Hey guys, something happened in court today. Like, y’all are on for 72 hours, ‘cause you gotta fix this.” That’s insane.
I also wanna know what that team looked like. (Faith: Yeah <laugh>.) Like, the growth is so quick where it’s like, was it still just Shawn and like, a couple of friends, or did they like…?
Yeah, it’s just the homies. (Victoria: Yeah.) Eat, and pull, and peel Twizzlers and pirate music. This was swiftly followed by other artists suing Napster, I do remember this part, most notably Dr. Dre, and the banning of another 234,000 users. (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) A buyout of the company was blocked for unrelated reasons, and the company filed Chapter 7, shuttering the doors in 2002. Where is Shawn Fanning now? This is all I need to know.
Where Shawn Fanning is, I don’t know. Fun fact I learned last week, Napster still exists, a different iteration.
What? Really? (Victoria: Yes.) I wonder if Shawn is behind that?
<Laugh> It still exists as like, a streaming platform. (Faith: No way.) Yeah. Learned it last week. Jeff Latz, who’s a developer on our platform, occasionally releases music, and he was saying that as part of like, where he distributes his music from, I guess someone had notified him that they can’t find it on Napster <laugh>.
Oh my god! (Victoria: Yeah.) Good to know. Victoria, did you also have a household computer only for Napster or Limewire?
Okay. So I was…this was like, around the time, I guess, when I was aware of the news (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Yeah.) and remember people got in like, legitimate trouble (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) for downloading from Napster. So I was terrified to use Napster or Limewire <laugh>. Terrified, because I was like, “They’re gonna know, they’re gonna come to my house,” (Faith: Yeah.) “and they’re gonna get me.” Like, who else is trying to download like, Rascal Flatts, you know, like (Faith: <Laugh>.) They’re gonna know it’s me <laugh>.
Oh my god. Yeah, I had like, a laptop specifically for, I mean it was just like, the slowest laptop of all time, had a million viruses on it, (Victoria: Oh, yeah.) it was awful. But my preferred way of pirating music was just like, making a mix CD and then giving CDs to my friends, making a bunch of copies. They would make me CDs, and that’s how you did it. But you had to like, do you remember when you pulled songs off of a CD, and you had to like…(Victoria: Rip and burn.) Rip and burn! And you had to write out the information. (Victoria: Oh yeah.) So the stuff that is, I have some of my mixtapes like, in my car now, and you can like, it’ll like, pull through the data that’s on the CD, and the things that I called these songs are not the names of the songs, but it was just, (Victoria: <Laugh>.) it was what I could do with my resources. You know, dial-up internet <laugh>.
That’s gonna be where you and I differ. I was definitely like, deep in the iTunes library, for anyone that’s ever had to do this, especially if you did rip albums, or you did have CDs that you got from other people and like, imported those. <Intense sigh>. The hunt for the album artwork, (Faith: Yes.) and changing all of the names to be like, accurate, grouping them all together by album, was a very early hobby of mine. (Faith: It was a full-time job.) Yeah, it was a full-time job. And so I would say for the information that pops up in my car, ‘cause, obviously, I still have them, they’re great. (Faith: Flawless.) Titles, artists <intense sigh> <laugh>.
I’m unsurprised by this. Again. Once again. We’re very different people. (Victoria: <Laugh>.) Okay, Victoria. That gets us right into the conversation today, which is like, love it or hate it, if it agrees with your moral tastes or not, Napster truly was like, the first taste we had at like, some sort of streaming, (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) cheap and/or free access to music, (Victoria: Yeah.) other than the radio, right? Like, on demand. I mean, in my eyes I kind of see it as like, laying the foundation of how we consume music today. What do you think?
Definitely influenced it a ton. 1999, early 2000s, especially with the launch of Napster, Limewire, you saw more of like, MP3, or more of just the addition of MP3 as your style sharing generally was a huge game changer in the music industry. You see in the early 2000s, because of the introduction of Napster and MP3 formats, that record sales, generally, you see decline just in the music (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) revenue for most larger establishments, which is wild. But MP3 sharing just changed how people consume music, generally. (Faith: Right.) It was no longer necessarily radio reliant. You definitely still found songs to the radio, and you’re like, “Okay, cool. This artist is awesome.” But it was no longer like, artist-centric. It could very much be dedicated to a song I like. I don’t have to buy the whole album or check out everything by an artist to like, appreciate it. So even in the early 2000s, that’s like, just a big, big shift, and you see a lot of different branches of how that has affected the music industry, in general. (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) I just read a book, and I’ll have to remember the title of it, but it basically broke down like, 20 of the number one singles on the billboard chart over like, the last 50 years or something, and one of them was around Soulja Boy. (Faith: Stop <laugh>.) <Laugh>. But what’s wild is sort of like, how it wasn’t necessarily Napster, but Napster influenced it with the creation of Limewire, and how, within Limewire and illegally downloading, you could name track whatever you wanted. And so, what’s that Soulja Boy song? (Faith: “Crank That”.) “Crank That” <laugh>. Immediate <laugh>. “Crank That”, Soulja Boy, he would take names of like, popular songs from when he was uploading that, so people would accidentally download it, and that’s how it became (Faith: So smart.) such like, a huge thing.
Oh my god, I did not know this.
Yeah. And so I think it’s really interesting to think about where like, Napster was really the start of just different ways that have affected the music industry as a whole, not only in how we consume it, how we find it, but like, the way that it has launched other artists in weird ways, (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) the viral nature of downloading something random.
Yeah. Radio used to be king, right? When it came to like, trend setting and who, you know, promoting things for people to purchase, but the experience of like, obtaining music to listen to on demand…like, I have vivid memories through like, middle school of going to the CD store, and flipping through all the different CDs, going into a booth, or just like, putting on the headphones, and scanning the CD, (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Oh yeah.) and listening to it. And like, MP3 was like, a huge deal, right?
I think what was nice about it, especially in those early 2000s with MP3, was if there was a CD, for those of us that still consumed in that way, you were able to burn and rip it and still share it. (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) It wasn’t necessarily going out, and seeking it, and downloading it. You were still able to share in that way. I think music has always been shareable. Even before, sort of the MP3 format, you had mix tapes that you could create for people or, you know, sort of come up with playlists in that way. So it’s always been shareable, but the sort of online format made it way easier to share and focused more on sort of the singularity, the singles of an artist, and I think you see that more now.
Yeah. I’m trying to remember. This is when people ask me like, “Hey, what do you think the best marketing campaign of all time was?” For me it was, I don’t know if you remember this, Gap and Apple did a partnership, where it was like, early days of the iPod, early days of iTunes, (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) and there’s a huge barrier to entry, because everyone was like, “I don’t wanna put my payment details on the Internet.” Like, we were still in that phase (Victoria: Yeah.) where like, we were calling catalogs to order things to our house, and Apple partnered with The Gap, and they’re like, “Alright, if you try on a pair of Gap jeans, you get a free song from iTunes,” and so that was your card and you could redeem it on iTunes. And the song was also really good. Like, Apple’s just really great at like, choosing songs that feel nostalgic, but they’re new. (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) And I was like, I think I just like, need to know what that first song was, but it was like, such a huge deal, right? Like, being able to access this huge library of MP3 files that was legal, right? (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Yeah.) It wasn’t gonna like, give your computer viruses and, you know, you got a song for free. And obviously, after that, I spent literally every single paycheck I got in high school on iTunes.
Oh <laugh>, iTunes gift cards like, were the best birthday gift.
The best! Yes! (Victoria: Yeah.) I’m finally at the age now where I find myself saying the phrase “kids these days” (Victoria: <Laugh>.) almost once a day and it’s really embarrassing, but kids these days will never understand like we had to invest in our music, (Victoria: Oh yeah.) you know?.
And it really came down to, maybe not came down to, maybe that’s only for me, (Faith: <Laugh>.) but like <laugh>, am I going to spend, you know, my $15 iTunes card on multiple singles that…(Faith: Or an album <singing>.) or an album? And it’s like, even consuming music now, there’s definitely artists that I still adore, die hard, will get the vinyl. (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) I would say I’ve definitely shied away more from CDs, but it’s like, the vinyl I’ll definitely pick up, or I’ll listen to all the way through on a platform like Spotify. (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Right.) It’s just the way that we consume it is so different.
Yeah. And we’ll get into like, okay, (Victoria: Yeah <laugh>.) what does this mean for artists and the money to make that? I’m curious about your take because you are so steeped in the music world. Do you think the backlash against Napster was warranted? from like Metallica’s point of view?
From like, Metallica’s point of view? (Faith: Right.) Like, looking at it from a perspective of then, with sort of the newness of streaming and file sharing…I think that the backlash against Napster, from an artist’s perspective, almost still exists today, where you do have a harder time making money, but at the same time, the industry, itself, has changed so much to where there are options now, or at least maybe a willingness on the side of an artist (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) to release music for free or to be consumed for free as a free download, or however they wanna share it. But in the early, late 90s, early 2000s, that wasn’t necessarily a way to get your music out there. (Faith: Right.) I think that was still reliant on, sort of, mix tapes, mix CDs, being outside of shows, and still, you know, “Hey, we like this band, check them out,” (Faith: Yeah <laugh>.) versus being able to, sort of, release anything into the ether and see where it sticks. (Faith: Yeah.)
So I think the backlash against Napster, on the side of Metallica, was more because of the newness, and any artist, probably, that would’ve, that did take the same course of action, or would’ve taken the same course of action, it’s hard to have the foresight of what MP3 file sharing would mean (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) for the rest of the industry as a whole. And I think that suing them for rights and monetary value of their own music did get a lot of backlash as well, just from music listeners, as far as like, “Well, you already have the money from (Faith: Right.) making music. You tour consistently. You know, what’s the big deal if I’m downloading this for free?” But at the same time, you see that struggle, now, for a lot of artists, to where they’re not making as much money or being able to make money, at least from like, album sales (Faith: Right.) or from streaming. It’s a little bit more difficult. (Faith: Yeah.) And so I think it’s more around, time has definitely shifted, what that backlash looks like, and what that perception looks like. It’s kinda interesting to think about.
Yeah. It feels like the, I mean, I wouldn’t say that the structure is ideal today, yet, but it’s certainly better than it was at the beginning of this notion of streaming. (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) So like, for the time, for sure, the backlash was warranted, right? Because it was like night and day in terms of sales. But today, I mean, we hear all the time, streaming platforms exploit artists. (Victoria: Yeah.) So the math that Abbey shared was the average rate for a song on Spotify is 4000th of a cent for every stream, (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>) which is $4,000 for a million plays, which is wild. So, you know, some artists avoid streaming platforms altogether. You mentioned like, the value of the stream today is kind of like the value of a radio play, (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) in that it’s like a marketing channel for you, and you use it to disseminate your music, to build your fan base, and now artists have to monetize in a different way. So yeah. I’m curious about just your thoughts on that. Like, monetization streams for artists, and how that’s changed.
For any artist established or not, you don’t see that same income stream that you saw in the decade before (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) Napster, just because there isn’t a focus, necessarily, on overall album sales for most artists. I mean, I think you have your major ones that break free from that a little bit, but at the same time, making money in music wasn’t necessarily easy before, (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) especially for newer artists. And so I think it almost becomes harder now for artists to get discovered. (Faith: Interesting.) I think, from a consumer side, we have the ability to find new music relatively easily. I mean, we can search, there’s algorithms at play that make it easier for us to consume, (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) but at the same time, there’s also so many artists out there, that it almost gets lost in the void, no matter where you have your music accessible to. And so I think that there’s still some adopting to some of the newer, sort of, platforms, away from those traditional models of radio airplay. Sorry, my thoughts are a little bit disjointed, (Faith: <Laugh>.) but I think that there’s still a lot of, sort of, marketing technique and campaign around some of those traditional formats (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) that exist but aren’t necessarily beneficial for like, new artists. There’s not going to be as much of an emphasis on, “Oh, we’re releasing an album now.”
It’s more around consistent releases, or at least having a hyped-up release that can, sort of, exist over a longer period of time, where you’re working on new music or new new ways of engagement (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) is really big. I think what you see right now, it’s not only music-focused, which I think a lot of artists do have a hard time with (Faith: Yeah.) or voice a lot of concern over, it’s no longer, “Oh, my music is good, and I’m putting it out there.” It’s “My music is good, I’m putting it out there, but to be found, I have to jump through all of these additional hoops,” (Faith: You have to be good at TikTok.) ‘cause the way that people consume…yeah. It’s really a thing where it’s more strategy-based, I think, on an individual artist level, especially if you aren’t signed (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) to a major label, to where you have to focus more on building that dedicated fan base. And it’s mostly content driven, so you’re looking at places like TikTok, where an artist can blow up overnight, depending on what the algorithm does, (Faith: Right.) which is really wild. But it’s really interesting to understand how people consume music, and knowing that there’s a lot of work behind the scenes that gets put into it for an artist to make even a penny from it.
Right. Yeah <laugh>. Even a penny.
Even a penny from it. And it’s really sort of unfortunate in some ways, but I think it’s also always been the case; we’re just highlighting it a little bit more, because the music is so accessible (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) to where if someone is listening to music, you know, I should receive a bigger share of what that monetization looks like.
Well, very different (Victoria: <Laugh>.) than the world that we came of age in, and very different than, you know, any other era of music consumption. (Victoria: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) But you know what, shout out to Shawn Fanning again. (Victoria: <Laugh>.) Love it or hate it, Napster was, Napster really did change the course of how we consume and discover music, and I’m very grateful for my Spotify account. It keeps me going.
I do think that’s where we’ll see more just, continued change in just digesting music as a whole. (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) There’s a lot of, not sort of like, controversy, but a little bit in terms of like, using AI for music, (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) and what that looks like for copyright, especially with song sampling and how that affects royalties. And I think you see that more from the record label side, obviously. I think from an artist’s perspective, there’s some creative liberties, I guess, that can be taken <laugh>. (THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) (Faith: <Laugh>.) But it’s just, you see more of the AI side start to play into what gets suggested to us (Faith: Uh huh.) or how music is being made, which is really interesting.
Right. The lesson is, there is no normal. Don’t get too comfortable, because it’s always just about to change. (Victoria: Yes.) Victoria, this was so much fun. I am gonna hang up on this call, and try to revive my external hard drive from college, and figure out what my first iTunes song was, so stay tuned for that. (Victoria: <Laugh>.)
Thanks for listening to The Frontier podcast, powered by Gun.io. We drop two episodes per week, so if you like this episode, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice, and come hang out with us again next week, and bring all your internet friends. If you have questions or recommendations, just shoot us a Twitter DM @theFrontierPod, and we’ll see you next week. (THE FRONTIER THEME ENDS)
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