Industry Opinion: Lars Ulrich Was Right About Piracy

More than a decade after being slammed for fronting the anti-piracy movement, it's safe to say that Lars was right about piracy. Looking back, it's surprising how right he really was.

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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.

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    Darth Wader
    I like graphs
    Me too, but having studied them for a while there is a misleading visual representation that is designed to make you think that things are worst than they really are. By showing increments of 3 billions and only showing the highest point and having the 2009 point as the lowest value they are implying that they have lost everything. That graph would give you an entirely different vibe if they showed the data in increments of 1 million and they displayed it from the higest point to 0 dollars. You would see then that there is still plenty.
    So, loss in revenue is attributed to piracy and not all these shitty acts they invest in? Interesting..
    Totally agree. When you have one direction and beiber as pop music icons, we remind ourselves about the travesty that was pop in the late 90s. The problem is that you have an entire generation, or many generations that have completely lost interest in modern music as rock has gone nowhere in the past 10-15 years, metal is splintered into a million sub-genres on a million labels and most of us cling to our classics and see no reason to invest in what the labels pump out.
    Specially since inside all that sub genres the bands are sounding the same a lot, you can hardly find that distinctive thing that each band had before and that despite being in the same genre as other you could clearly recognize them
    loss in revenue is clearly due to switch from CD sales to digital singles sales..... they are just crying on the wrong place
    So...did Metallica misspell "Disappear" or did UG???
    Darth Wader
    Definitely UG. They even have a typo on their advertisement on the homepage that says: Save up $500 to on your favorite Yamaha Guitar Gear...To on? Really?!?!
    Let's not say anything about the artificially inflated price that record companies imposed on music: $16.99 for a CD in 2000 was obnoxious. They were a conglomerate monopoly. The music industry as a whole has been growing every year Worldwide Music Industry Revenues: 2006 ($60.7 billion) 2007 ($61.5 billion) 2008 ($62.6 billion) 2009 ($65.0 billion) 2010 ($66.4 billion) 2011 ($67.6 billion)
    Wow. In my country we often have to pay around 17 euros for a newly released album. That's like 24-ish dollars. Anywho, I still like to buy music, but only if I like it. I mean, we can try on clothes before we buy it too right? If you then find you like it, you can buy it.
    interesting article, but no chance of a proper discussion on the issue while lots of people still care more about getting free stuff than about who's right or wrong.
    On the other hand, it's also safe to say that Lars at the time knew nothing about internet piracy himself and was merely concerned about Metallica's songs being made available online for free without his consent
    Right, Metallica sucks and is all about money. example: 50 dollar crappy neck ties and Lulu. Moving on ...
    wow, they make a dozen good records, and then people like you whine about one..
    One? Lulu was actually pretty god in my opinion. I on the other hand, like the rough produced sound. regardless of lulu, how do you explain load through saint anger?
    Well duh, of course he was right. The only people who thought otherwise were those who were butthurt when their "right" to have music for free was questioned and under threat.
    No. This thinking leads us into a world where you can do nothing, without violating someones rights somewhere. You can clearly see it on the patent wars, that are fought. And it leads to total surveillance of the people. Which informations people exchange is a private matter and neither the government, nor the industry has the right to interfere.
    Once again...Metallica are ahead of their time real men lead the this case its metallica who lead years ago
    Piracy for money - copying stuff on the net to sell it - that's bad karma, but sharing is what gets people noticed... Where would artists like Ed Sheeran and PSY (I be without the internet? I can think of at least ten bands I wouldn't even have given a second thought if I hadn't heard them online, or on some bootleg download. But, if ya like it - GO OUT AND BUY IT!
    Don't reply to a post just to get yours on top, I know I'm doing the same and I'll probably get downvotes too, but seriously...
    im not sure why this guy got downvoted so much. He has a point PSY really did make his comeback mainly b/c of Youtube it seems. I heard of the song when my buddies showed it to me when It had hit 130mill views. No idea what it's at now, but this was a month after it came out and now he's inked deals for North American distribution for the next...what? 6 years? Other than that, I also don't understand why this ARTICLE in general got downvoted b/c Lars was right, just look at what kind of sales gets a rock/metal etc band into the top 20 on 70k sales. Hell I can remember when I bought my first CD (I bought Linkin Park's Meteora at the time, I was like album they ever made might I add!) and Im pretty sure back then they sold like over 800k copies apparently. Just think about that. Not saying I havent illegally downloaded in my youth (Im 19 right now) but sales are hurting. I try my best to support artists a lot and by singles on iTunes and albums and whatnot, something everyone should be doing right now. If you love the music you listen to, better F%^*ing support it! It's there because you are a fan and payed money to keep the dream alive
    The graph only accounts for full album sales, so what would those number look like if they factored in individual purchases and digital downloads as a whole? I have a feeling it wouldn't look as bleak as it does in that graph.
    The graph shows revenue, not profits. The fact that they rake in less gross revenue, is partly due to the fact that the industry transited towards digital sales, which are cheaper for the customer, but also have less operational costs. So even if they make less per sale, it also costs them less to sell, so they're still turning a profit, and get to show nice graphs like that to make teenagers feel guilty about doing something that's totally legitimate. Listening to music.
    I checked out the stats and profits have consistently increased every year, the labels seem to have a pretty good hold on the situation.
    sorry about kinda spamming, it's just that I have very little faith in humanity's ability to read the objective facts of a situation without me shoving them in peoples faces repeatedly. I really need to work on my trust.
    there's nothing there that's substantiated - it only refers to a source of "emarketer" and if you try to go find out you get a 404 error... so I'll trust CNN and The New York Times - Thanks!
    CNN and the NYT are owned by the same people that own the record companies. They have an agenda. That said, latinromans' sources were a bit weak. I wrote a 20 something page article about why current copyright laws are BS for law school, but it's in Portuguese so not much use here :/