With more than a decade past since Napster started to ravage the music industry, one thing is clearer than ever: Lars was right.
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was among the first artists to speak out against the new tide of digital piracy, but was slammed by observers who said he simply didn't understand how the internet could support a new musical revolution.
Indeed, the internet has levelled the playing field, and many unsigned artists have developed careers independent of record label support. But at the same time, it enabled piracy that has vastly reduced record industry revenues, and in turn, investment in new artists.
It started in April 2000, when Metallica filed a lawsuit against Napster for copyright infringement when the un-finished song "I Dissapear" ironically appeared online. Lars became the public face of the lawsuit, which was settled out of court.
Around the same time, Lars began appearing as an anti-piracy advocate on TV debates, like this one with Public Enemy's Chuck D:
During the interview, Chuck D says "I think there's going to be more music sold than ever." In hindsight, he might disagree. Here's a graph showing music revenues between 1999 and 2009 (via The Trichordist).
Lars, on the other hand, comes across as prophetic.
One leading criticism of the music industry has been that it tried to sue peer-to-peer services rather than work with them, or even buy them out before piracy got out of hand. At the time, Lars came across as a figurehead for an industry that fans couldn't relate to, but now his opening statement looks level-headed and reasonable:
"What we're trying to do it say wait a minute, time out for a second, let's just sit down and deal with this, and try and get a public debate going on how to control this for the future."
He insisted it wasn't about the money, because their losses from piracy at the time were relatively small. "It's really about people's perception of the internet... what their rights are as a internet user and how it relates to intellectual property," he said.
Chuck D, on the other hand, was still smart about how the shift of control from the labels to the fans could be a good thing. He saw Napster as the "new radio" - a concept that has evolved to today's modern streaming services like Spotify and Rdio. The difference is, radio used to promote music but left listeners longing for control over when and where they could hear it. Now there's little reason to buy full albums when you can get individual tracks on demand for free or cheap.
Lars later came to regret being the face of the anti-piracy movement because of the hate it generated, but in 2010 he stood by his opinion:
"I think if anything we were just caught off guard by how passionate people were about this whole internet phenomenon at the time and it kind of blind-sided us, but we stood our ground and stuck with our principles and a lot of people now are patting us on the back and saying how right we were."
What do you think? Does Lars deserve more credit for his early observations? Let us know what you think in the comments.