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Barenaked Ladies battle Napster with 'Trojan' downloads

By RICHARD STENGER, Writer, CNN, September 19th 2000.

(CNN) — The surprise that many Napster users will find when they download new songs from the Barenaked Ladies won't be music to their ears.

The popular Canadian band has flooded the Internet with imposter files to confuse online music users who might think they are accessing free songs. But instead of crooning lyrics from their newly released album, singer Steven Page and drummer Tyler Stewart deliver a different tune.

The imposter files begin with a sample of each expected song before breaking away to an offbeat marketing pitch for the band:

"Although you thought you were downloading our new single, what you actually were downloading is an advertisement for our new album," says Page in one of the Trojan-style downloads.

Page and Stewart also engage in light-hearted banter throughout the downloaded files, pretending to grapple with getting their songs on Napster. One clip ends with a tongue-in-cheek quip from Stewart.

"We fooled you, huh? We're sneaky like that. You can never trust a Canadian," he jokes. "Next thing you know we'll be supplying your natural resources."

A so-called Trojan horse program is typically malicious in nature, designed to conceal harmful code inside apparently innocuous programming or data in such a way that a user can get control or unleash a chosen form of damage. However, the Trojan files deployed by the Barenaked Ladies are not designed to harm a person's computer.

The tactic is one of many that musical acts and record companies are using in an effort to thwart Internet programs like Napster, which allow the quick, easy and free digital transfer of copyrighted music.

Terry McBride, manager of Barenaked Ladies, said the band resorted to the measure "because we knew that tracks were going to end up on Napster, so why not have some fun with it?"

"We give you a big enough chunk so that if you like it, hopefully you'll go out and buy it," McBride said.

To stop Napster from hurting CD sales, the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed suit against the Redwood City, California-based company. Opening arguments are scheduled to begin October 2.

Rather than fight music on the Internet, some well-known musical acts welcome it. Hoping the method has grassroots marketing potential, alternative rock bands like Hole, The Offspring and Smashing Pumpkins have doled out both free music downloads and vigorous criticisms of the record industry.

"What is piracy? Piracy is the act of stealing an artist's work without any intention of paying for it. I'm not talking about Napster-type software. I'm talking about major label recording contracts," states Hole singer Courtney Love on the band's Web site.

The Smashing Pumpkins, in part because of a dispute with their record label, skipped the CD format altogether for a collection of songs they released last week. The band only pressed a handful of old-fashioned vinyl albums, gave them to friends and urged them and others to spread them as online music files. The Offspring is also planning to distribute their entire new album on the Web.

"It's interesting how different bands are taking to show their support or distaste for Napster. It's especially interesting to see how they are using Napster itself to convey the message," said Stacey Herron, an Internet and music analyst with Jupiter Communications.

Herron said she was not surprised by the Barenaked Ladies' deployment of Trojan music files to fight so-called Internet piracy. The tactic exploits what she considers a major flaw in Napster that prevents it from becoming a profitable venture. Napster representatives had no comment Monday.

"Part of the inherent problem of Napster is you can't be 100 percent guaranteed of what you'll get. That's why it will not be able to start charging fees and why people won't ever pay for it," Herron said.