On March 13, 2000, Metallica filed a lawsuit against Napster for distributing its then-unreleased song "I Disappear." Drummer Lars Ulrich also showed up to Napster's office in May with literal piles of hundreds of thousands of users' names who downloaded the song illegally. The whole thing blew up pretty quickly and to this day the band still gets hell from certain pockets of fans about the way they handled the whole thing.
In an interview with 92Y in New York City, Ulrich says at the time Metallica didn't know the coming scope of the fight they were about to embark on and wishes they'd have educated themselves a little bit more on the whole thing.
To answer your question directly, I think we would have educated ourselves better about what the other side were thinking and what the real issues were. 'Cause you've gotta remember, this started out as a street fight. This wasn't about the future of music, this wasn't about the music business, this had absolutely nothing to do with money. This was a back-alley street fight.
Ulrich also recounts the event, and how he found out that people were hearing "I Disappear" before the band even announced the song.
We were working on a song for this Tom Cruise film, 'Mission Impossible II', called 'I Disappear', and we recorded it in between some touring commitments, and it was gonna be held back till the next summer. And so one day I got a call from [then-manager] Cliff saying 'I Disappear' is being played on 20 radio stations across America, and we're, like, 'How the fuck is this possible?' And he said there's something called Napster where people can go and share. And we're, like, 'How the hell did they get 'I Disappear'? It lives in our vault somewhere.' And so we traced it back to this company Napster, and as you did in those days, it was, like, 'Well, let's go fuck with Napster then.' So just like these five bright lights on me, and I can't actually see any of you guys, all of a sudden, we were caught in these lights and we're standing out in the middle going, 'Oops.' I guess Napster means a lot to a lot of people, and so we were caught a little bit off guard with that, and then we sort of had to figure out how we were gonna play it.
Ultimately, Ulrich concedes that maybe they could've tried a different approach, instead of showing up with the names of people who downloaded their music:
"That was a dare. Because what [Napster] said… They were very smart and they really were very smart. And Sean Parker and I are best friends and we've had all this out, and I've complimented him and we rekindled our relationship. But they were so fucking smart. They said, 'We don't know who these people are that are downloading your songs.' And we went, 'We don't believe that. And we believe that we can find those names.' And they go, 'Okay. Who are they?' And we went, 'Here are the names.' I showed up at Napster and started pulling 335,000 names out of a pickup truck. 'Here are the people. If you can't find them, we can give 'em to you.' And so that was… maybe not the smartest PR move of all time, but at least we won the argument."
Ulrich adds that Metallica at the time was very pro-bootleg, and it wasn't about giving music away for free when it came to the fight with Napster. Instead, and in his own words, the fight was a little more along the lines of permission – "Wait a minute! If we're gonna give away our music, which we don't mind doing, maybe we should do it, or maybe somebody should ask our permission."
At least one musician sided with Lars, Brann from Mastodon. Lars had said in the past that other bands privately thanked him for what he was doing but "were being pussies" about going public with it. Ultimately, we have to wonder – was Lars right?