Napster Turns Orrin Hatch Into One Groovy Cat

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Congress is no different than the rest of us when it comes to getting a little weak-kneed for celebrities — remember when Ted "Cat Scratch Fever" Nugent came to sing the praises of bow hunting? But the scene in the packed hearing room of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, to discuss the legality of free-music sites like Napster and, may have taken the cake.

"I was listening to Metallica this morning in my office," Sen. Orrin Hatch told the band's drummer, Lars Ulrich, to guffaws. "Pretty darn good." The suddenly impish Utah conservative even downloaded a Creed album as the hearings kicked off, to show how easy it was.

Easy enough for 13 million Americans to have done it, making Napster beloved by penny-pinching music lovers and a major headache for record companies and bands. Metallica and the Recording Industry Association of America are suing the site — "Napster hijacked our music without asking... Our catalog of music simply became available as free downloads," Ulrich testified. Napster CEO Hank Barry's straight-faced response: "Napster is an Internet directory service... That's it.", at least, always wanted to be more than that, namely a mini-record label with minimal marketing costs. That's how Byrds founder Roger McGuinn was offered "an unheard-of, non-exclusive recording contract with a royalty rate of 50 percent of the gross sales," McGuinn told the committee in defense of the web music revolution. "I was delighted by this youthful and uncommonly fair approach."

But the label approach doesn't play fast and loose with copyright laws. Napster's "directory" model sure does, even if the company claims the fault lies with users, not itself. David Boies, once the government's lead lawyer against Microsoft and now representing Napster against Big Music, wasn't there to tell the committee how he plans to find enough loopholes in the laws to keep Napster from getting stomped by the RIAA.

Now, maybe if he had prettier hair and was a better guitarist...