On this day in 1999, The Recording Industry Association of America filed the lawsuit against Napster that would eventually bring it down. I was 19 at the time and thinking back on it now, I dismissed it. It was RIAA and another business bickering with each other and it didn’t concern me. But things started to change. There was talk of people being sued by the RIAA. You mean like “real” people? Why is this organization going after us!? There was panic. Songs that should’ve been easily available weren’t there. The suspicion was the RIAA was uploading songs with viruses. Another suspicion was they were looking up the songs and then suing people who had them. People started to change the title and artist of the song to counter this. Some went as far as to create their own codes that you’d have to look up on the internet in order to decipher which song was which.
And then there was Lars Ulrich from Metallica. His public disdain for Napster was like a slap in the face. It was us against them and you side with the enemy? What is your malfunction, dude!? It was war. All of my Metallica cassette tapes and CDs were smashed as I pledged my allegiance to free music and declared that Metallica was nothing more than puppets of corporate America; hell bent on destroying the happiness of the youth! Am I stealing songs? Pshhh! It was no different than waiting to hear your favorite song on the radio and hitting the record button! And besides, if I was “stealing”, as they put it, I wasn’t doing anything they didn’t already do when they were charging $15.99 or more for a CD. AND THE CD SUCKED! Only 3 or 4 good songs on there and I paid $15.99 for that!? You greedy corporate fat cats and rich rockstars have been cheating us! Welcome to payback.
Songs were being downloaded like crazy. Limewire and Kazaa accounts were created as backups just in case the main base (Napster) was destroyed. Soldiers were getting nervous about their IP addresses being spotted so people would only log on long enough to find the song that they wanted and then they’d log off whether you were in the middle of downloading from them or not. Soldiers still on dial-up probably hated this more than most. People finally started to understand that a lower “ping” meant that it was a faster download from someone. The days of leaving your Napster program up while songs downloaded over night, were over. It wasn’t worth the risk.
With wider acceptance of Kazaa and Limewire, Napster became a shell of it’s former self. We all abandoned the base and moved to quieter outposts. And then the RIAA came after them too. No place was safe. I was one of many that realized I’d never have enough money to win a lawsuit or pay the fine when I lost. I put down my sword and shield and blended in with the rest of the population. We fought a good fight, right? We may have lost, but people had computers full of music and were generally happy… right? So the layoffs at various record labels weren’t really important. They’re all rich. There were casualties on both sides. Some of us were fined ridiculous amounts of money and I’m not sure any of them are done paying that debt. Local record stores went under. Record Labels had layoffs and/or went under. It was hard to feel guilty when you suspect Lars, Metallica and the RIAA are all flipping us the bird while they sip champagne on some island. To this day, I still refuse to listen to Metallica.
About 2 years later, I was selling my band’s new CD after a show when 2 teens walked up to me. They asked how much was the CD and I happily told them that it was 10 songs and a bonus for $7. The first teen ponied up the money right away. Her friend said “I want one, but I don’t have enough to get it.” Before I had a chance to negotiate, the first friend said “It’s ok, I’ll rip it and burn you a copy. Or do you want it in an email?” They couldn’t be serious. I’m not rich. I still do my laundry at my parent’s house and raid their fridge! I’m just trying make money from our music so we can have T-Shirts to sell!…. Wait… What did I just say? Did I just say I was trying to make money off of my music? Isn’t that what I fought Metallica and the RIAA about? Which side am I on? And here, a teenager just did the same thing to me. It’s not karma. I wasn’t rich to begin with. I’m still poor and that teenager has admitted she plans to steal from me. When did it become ok to screw over the indie rock band? It’s all Lars, Metallica and the RIAA’s fault. They started it. Yeah… That’s right. I’ll keep telling myself that. They started it.