The irony was not overlooked by many online.

This year’s BlizzCon is understandably a digital affair due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but things did not get off to a smooth start for the two-day event.

As part of the BlizzCon 2021 opening ceremony, heavy metal band Metallica performed live approximately an hour into the show with a rendition of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” from the 1984 album Ride the Lightning.

Prior to the live performance, as guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield was introducing the band and acknowledging their first BlizzCon appearance back in 2014, a caption was shown at the bottom of the screen which read: “The upcoming musical performance is subject to copyright protection by the applicable copyright holder”.

As Metallica began playing, the band hadn’t even made it out of the song’s intro when the live audio was dubbed with a couple of replacement tracks. This only happened on the live stream from the official twitchgaming channel (the Metallica segment starts at 1:11:14) but not on the YouTube one (beginning 1:24:53).

Metallica was involved in a legal battle with Napster back in 2000 in which the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (the RICO act) was used to allege copyright infringement by the peer-to-peer file-sharing service and its userbase. Napster ended up having to ban over 300,000 accounts and was served with an injunction, causing the service to shut down the following year. Napster agreed to pay $26 million to cover past royalties and an advancement of $10 million for future licensing royalties from a planned subscription model before making a return in September 2001, but while Napster was busy contending with music labels in court, alternative and rival services had popped up to fill the space that was left; after a significant drop in users, Napster eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2002.

The high-profile case was an early example of musicians taking on the rise of the Internet and the spread of music being shared among users. Rapper Dr. Dre was another well-known artist who filed a similar suit. Metallica faced backlash from fellow musicians and fans for taking the legal – and arguably antagonistic – approach in search of a financial resolution.

The band sent out a press release which stated: “It is … sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is. From a business standpoint, this is about piracy - taking something that doesn’t belong to you. And that is morally and legally wrong.”

Napster would eventually reach a settlement with both Metallica and Dr. Dre. Metallica’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, said “I think we’ve resolved this in a way that works for fans, recording artists, and songwriters alike.”

He added: “Our beef hasn’t been with the concept of sharing music; everyone knows that we’ve never objected to our fans trading tapes of our live concert performances. The problem we had with Napster was that they never asked us or other artists if we wanted to participate in their business.”

The usage of music across various online content has been increasingly problematic in recent years, especially since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and proposed bills such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).

As many online have pointed out, this recent BlizzCon fiasco was not without irony.