Napster

by GMoulden

Napster was an online music file sharing system that operated from June 1999 to July 2001. Napster was created by Shawn Fanning while he attended college at the Northeaster University in Boston, Mass.
Originally released in June of 1999, Napster was created to provide an easier method of searching for music than using IRC or Lycos. Napster was the first of the massively popular peer-to-peer file distributation that was, and still is, vastly used worldwide. While there were already networks used to distribute files across the Internet, such as IRC, Hotline, and USENET, Napster specialized entirely in music in the form of MP3 files. Napster also provided an unusually friendly user service. All of this resulted in a system whose popularity generated a massive music selection available for downloading.
While music ‘sharing’ was actually considered theft, many of Napster’s users felt justified in using this system rather than buying CDs. Some of their reasoning included that the price of CDS had risen, even though many people complained that CDs generally only held one or two ‘good’ songs and a bunch of ‘filler’ songs that were of inferior quality. The public praised Napster because it provided them with a way to get the songs they wanted without having to actually buy anything. More often than not, people just enjoyed downloading and trading free music.

As much as the public liked Napster, the company was forced to face some severe legal challenges by those artists whose songs were showing up in the trading system. The heavy metal band Metallica discovered that a demo of their song titled ‘I Disappear’ had been circulating the network long before it was released. These circulations eventually lead to the song being played on radio stations across America. It was brought to Metallica’s attention that their entire back catalogue of material was available, for free, to the public. Outraged, the group filed charges against Napster in 2000. A month after Metallica filed their charges, a rapper named Dr. Dre, who shared a legal firm with Metallica, filed a similar lawsuit against Napster after the company refused to remove his works from their service. Napster eventually settled both lawsuits, but only after having been shut down in a separate lawsuit issued by the Ninth Circuit Court.
Again in 2000, Napster was sued by A&M Records and several other recording companies for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Napster was ordered by the District Court to monitor the activities of its network and to block access of infringing materials when notified of the material’s location. As Napster found itself unable to do this, it shut down its service in July of 2001. It had already been offline since the previous year in compliance to the court ruling. In 2002, Napster formally declared itself bankrupt and sold its assets.

While it did not help save the dying company, a surprising amount of bands actually liked Napster’s circulating their music. Many believed that Napster actually stimulated, rather than hurt, music sales. Proof supporting this includes Radiohead’s success with their Kid A album. In July of 2000, tracks from the Kid A album meandered onto the Napster network and were instantly snapped up. Kid A was an experimental album, with no major ‘hit’ songs, and received relatively little radio play. But by the time the album was officially released, it was estimated that millions of people had downloaded it for free worldwide. In October, Kid A captured the number one spot on the Billboard 200 sales chart for its debut week. Evidentially, people who had already heard the songs from Napster were eager to go out and buy the CD when it was officially released. The effect of Napster in this instance was isolated from other elements that could be credited for driving sales, and the albums unexpected success could be considered proof that Napster was a good promotional tool for music.

In 2002, Napster’s name and logo were acquired in a bankruptcy auction by the company Roxio Inc. Roxio used them to rebrand the pressplay music service as Napster 2.0. Again, in September of 2008, Napster was sold to the US electronics company Best Buy for $121 million.

While Napster did not actually function as an independent company for long, it did efficiently open doors for the music downloading world-offering options that hadn’t been explored previously.

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