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Metallica Now Embraces File-Sharing?

New interview says that they’ve been “observing Radiohead and Trent Reznor,” and that for its next album fans can expect “everything in terms of possibilities with the Internet.”

It was back in 2000 that Metallica discovered a demo of its song “I Disappear,” which was supposed to be released in combination with the Mission: Impossible II soundtrack, was receiving radio airplay. Tracing the source of the leak, the band found that the song was available on Napster, the long defunct P2P network. It also found that the band’s entire catalogue was available as well. Soon thereafter it sued Napster for copyright infringement and became one of the most vocal critics of file-sharing.

The lawsuit was eventually settled in 2001, and under terms of the settlement, Napster agreed to identify and block access to files that artists like Metallica do not want shared.

It was their case against Napster that really made Metallica the face of file-sharing critics and really incensed a lot of their fans who couldn’t understand how a band that had already made millions was concerned with making millions more. It became the poster boy for greedy artists everywhere and caused many to turn their backs on the band that had turned it’s on them.

In any event, they seem to have come full circle these days with news that its fight was “never about downloading per se,” and that it has been closely “…observing Radiohead and Trent Reznor.”

Say what?

Perhaps sensing that the ubiquitous record store is a thing of the past, even conducting the interview with Rolling Stone at a “Record Store Day,” an event designed to celebrate physical music retailers, in northern California, it has even decided to make digital music for sale.

From the interview:

RS: You were one of the first artists to sue over copyright infringement and voice concerns over aspects of downloading. Eight years later, with bands like Radiohead embracing the Net and yet charting, how has your stance changed, if at all?

M: We have FLACs and MP3s for sale. It was never about downloading per se. We have the Vault where you can download shows from twenty years ago for free, full-on and it’s been there for years. You can download recent shows days after they happen for cost. Back in the day there was a much bigger question about “on whose terms?” We said, “Wait a minute, it should be about the artist.” Then all hell broke loose and we sat on the sidelines for a while. We’ve always been fiercely independent and controlling; sometimes to a fault. That’s why we exist and why all these people show up.

RS: Like a 360 deal with Live Nation?

M: Mmm, we’ve never sold ourselves that way. No disrespect. We want to be as free a players as possible. We’ve been observing Radiohead and Trent Reznor and in twenty-seven years or however long it takes for the next record, we’ll be looking forward to everything in terms of possibilities with the Internet.

Metallica then goes on to stress its “independence” by noting that its latest album, due later this year and whose name I can’t seem to find, is the last it has under contract with Warner Records. After this it will be “… looking at how we can embrace everything.”

“We want to be as free a players as possible,” they continue in the interview.”We’ve been observing Radiohead and Trent Reznor and in twenty-seven years or however long it takes for the next record, we’ll be looking forward to everything in terms of possibilities with the Internet.”

So does this mean it now embraces file-sharing? It could be, and it could be that maybe, just maybe it was “…never about downloading per se” in the first place. I think what the honest truth is is that finally it realizes that CDs and cassettes are a thing of the past and that digital music is the format of the future.

The real question for them is then how do you distribute and make money from it? With record companies and retailers like Apple taking a lion’s share of the profits it’s only natural to conclude that a business model like Radiohead’s or Trent Reznor’s is the way to go. I mean if you’re only making 10 cents on the dollar for each track or album sold then couldn’t you just as easily charge fans 10 cents per track or 1 dollar for an album and still come out ahead? It’s not rocket science to make a profit here.

Unfortunately for Metallica it may be just too late to try and bring back angry former fans. The damage has been already been done and the band still doesn’t show any signs of sympathy or remorse for years of overpriced albums affecting “loyal fans” like NIN did.

Either way, welcome back Metallica it’s been far too long, and I’m posting the video for “One” as a tribute.