Metallica, along with the Recording Industry Association of America and others, has sued Napster charging various copyright law violations because the company’s file-swapping software enables users to easily download music without paying for it.

The hearing on digital music and the Internet featured rock stars and suits alike explaining to the Senate panel the effect that downloadable music is having on the recording industry. In addition to Ulrich and Napster CEO Hank Barry, senators heard from Byrds founder Roger McGuinn and CEO Michael Robertson.

But the stars of the show were clearly Ulrich and Barry.

“Napster hijacked our music without asking,” Ulrich testified. “They never sought our permission. Our catalog of music simply became available as free downloads on the Napster system.”

“Napster is helping and not hurting the recording industry and artists,” Barry countered. “A chorus of studies show that Napster users buy more records as a result of using Napster and that sampling music before buying is the most important reason that people use Napster.”

Ulrich compared downloading from Napster to stealing a CD from a record store.

“Every time a Napster enthusiast downloads a song, it takes money from the pockets of all these members of the creative community,” Ulrich said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a known Deadhead, said the committee is still trying to decide whether it’s necessary to bring the federal government in to referee.

“I don’t think there is a way this can be worked out without your involvement,” Ulrich said.

“I think we must let the market work and let history be our guide in not squashing this technology too soon,” Barry said, noting that copyright complaints had been worked out with the arrival of radio, television and satellite television.

McGuinn testified that during the apex of his career with the Byrds in the 1960s, he was paid modest sums from recording contracts and royalties. However, he has been offered a 50 percent royalty rate by, which recently settled a suit with two record companies over copyright infringement charges.

“I was delighted by this youthful and uncommonly fair approach to the recording industry,” McGuinn testified.

“I think the market will sort itself out,” he added.

Hatch demonstrated to the committee that he’s as hip to downloadable music as they come. At one point, Hatch used Gnutella software to download a Creed song for the committee to listen to.

Gnutella developer Gene Kan sarcastically pointed out, “we just infringed rights now, and everybody just chuckled about it.”

“I don’t think we infringed rights,” Hatch retorted. “It was for education and governmental purposes.”

Hatch, who has recorded several country and religious CDs, drew laughter from the committee and gallery when he proclaimed, “I was listening to Metallica this morning in my office. Pretty darn good!”

He didn’t say whether he downloaded his Metallica collection from Napster, however.