Metallica‘s 2000 lawsuit against Napster, the pioneering and controversial file-sharing service, epitomized a disoriented music industry in the new millennium. And while some fans criticized the metal band for their legal action, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett maintains that they made the right choice.
“The whole Napster thing – it didn’t do us any favors whatsoever. But you know what? We’re still in the right on that — we’re still right about Napster, no matter who’s out there who’s saying, ‘Metallica was wrong,'” Hammett recently told Swedish TV show Nyhetsmorgon. “All you have to do is look at the state of the music industry, and that kind of explains the whole situation right there.”
Hammett’s comments were in response to a question about Metallica’s 10th and most recent LP, 2016’s Hardwired to Self-Destruct – their first issued via major streaming services. Though he recognized this modern technology as a necessary promotional tool, he lamented the loss of sound quality that comes from digitizing analog music.
“There was a time when the streaming thing was kinda weird, and it’s not that great of quality – I don’t care what anyone sounds about modern streaming, all these ‘bits’ and whatnot,” he said. “It’s never going to sound better than vinyl. Having that said, we want to be accessible, and you need to make sure you’re accessible on all the modern fronts.”
As album sales have continued to plummet in the post-Napster era, the band’s outlook on piracy appears to have been proven correct – even if some fans continue to criticize their methodology, which included delivering a list of 335,000 users who downloaded their songs.
Hammett has remained proud of the band’s tough approach – and wishes other artists had stepped up in their battle. “If there’s anything I regret, I regret that no one else supported us during that Napster time,” he told The Word of Wheeler podcast in 2016. “I don’t even know if you can call it a regret. Maybe it’s more of a disappointment. I was very disappointed that other musicians who saw our point, they supported us in ways that were less inconvenient to them.
“We stuck our necks out there,” he added. “At the end of the day, I’d like to say what we were doing had some merit – some truth to it.”
While Hammett has embraced a more optimistic outlook on the music industry in recent years, he’s confident that piracy has permanently ruined the old business model.
“It’s just become too big of a beast to try to control,” he told Noisey in 2014. “The best thing to do is to try to put a positive spin on it and embrace it for what it is because it’s still keeping our music alive and out there, and people are still hearing us and listening to us. We’re just learning how to roll with the changes. The whole piracy thing, the whole Internet thing, really destroyed the record industry, and it ended up changing music and the way it even sounds. Now, it just seems like there’s less of a drive to be the best musician you can be or the best band that you can be because you can record anything, and put it out there, and people will say, ‘Hey, that’s great!’ or, ‘No, [that] sucks,’ whatever. It used to be that you had to really work hard to earn the respect selling albums, competing with all the other great bands making great albums – that just doesn’t exist anymore.
“Everyone just kinda throws an album out there, and it kinda just floats around in the cyber-world,” he added. “What I miss is, there was a time when people would rally behind bands. When an album came out, it was a huge event that everyone spoke about, and you’d go down to the record store and see other people buying it and other people excited, and, ‘Have you heard this yet!?’ ‘No, I haven’t!’ – all that is gone now because of the Internet. The convenience of it is great, but it really put a big fuckin’ kibosh on all that shit.”
Drummer Lars Ulrich, meanwhile, has expressed some remorse for the band’s aggressive tactic. “I learned that the thing that I love about Metallica is that we’re very impulsive,” he told Rolling Stone in 2016. “That impulsivity occasionally bites us in the ass, because we jump before we know where we’re landing. In a creative environment, that’s a great situation. But with Napster, we jumped straight down to “Fuck these guys! Let’s go after them.” [Laughs] And then all of a sudden, we were just like a deer caught in the headlights.
“I underestimated what Napster meant to people in terms of the freedom it represented,” he added. “So I think that sometimes even if you don’t want to, you gotta kinda just do a little bit of due diligence before you jump – at least have an idea of where you think you’re gonna land [laughs].”