Once the music industry's worst nightmare, Napster experienced a meteoric rise in popularity and an even swifter fall due to legal issues. While most of its users have since migrated to other file-sharing platforms, Napster still exists today as a subscription-based service.
When Shawn and John Fanning, along with Sean Parker, launched Napster in 1999, they probably were unaware that their program was going to revolutionize the music industry by popularizing digital recordings and facilitating piracy on a grand scale. The original version of Napster allowed its users to share their entire MP3 library with other Napster users around the world. For the first time in history, music enthusiasts could instantly download any song they wanted, as long as it was shared by at least one other Napster user. While some Napster users undoubtedly used the service to share royalty-free recordings, others simply used the program because it gave them access to free recordings from their favorite artists.
Legal Woes and Shutdown
Napster's legal woes started mere months after its launch. At the end of 1999, the Recording Industry Association of America filed its first lawsuit against Napster, arguing that the service was infringing on copyrights held by RIAA members. A few months later, popular artists Metallica and Dr. Dre sued Napster after finding out that entire albums of their recordings were being illegally shared on the service. The final blow to the original Napster came on February 12th, 2001, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the company to prevent its users from sharing copyrighted content.
Unbeknownst to many, Napster still lives on today, at least in name. While the company was liquidated soon after the shutdown of its servers in 2001, its name and its cat-shaped logo were bought in 2002 by software company Roxio, which used them to rebrand its subscription-based music service, Pressplay. Since then, Napster has changed hands twice, first bought by retail giant Best Buy before being acquired by Rhapsody, an American online music store, in 2011.
User Base Migration
As the first peer-to-peer file-sharing service, Napster paved the way for many other popular applications launched in the past decade. After the shutdown of Napster's servers in 2001, its user base soon migrated to newer file-sharing platforms, such as Gnutella, eDonkey and BitTorrent. Unlike Napster, those file-sharing applications do not rely on a central server which can be shut down by the authorities. With the advent of broadband Internet connections, file-sharing software now allows users to both legally and illegally share videos and programs, in addition to MP3 files.
- Fortune: Ashes to Ashes, Peer to Peer - An Oral History of Napster
- Moyak.com: Early History of Napster
- SFGate: Napster Runs Out of Lives - Judge Rules Against Sale
- History: The Death Spiral of Napster Begins
- LA Times: Best Buy Sells Napster to Rival Rhapsody
- Wired: Roxio Buys Pressplay, Napster Lives
- Photo Credit Michael Buckner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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