Napster P2P File Sharing – 1999 AD

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Shawn Fanning (b. 1982), Sean Parker (b. 1979)

“Free digital music with a user-friendly interface. That’s what Napster promised, and what it delivered to its users. By 1999, software could readily transform digital music from audio CDs into the compact MP3 format, and with high-speed internet connections, users could transmit or receive a compressed song in less than a minute. Digital music piracy had long been a concern for the music industry.

Shawn Fanning’s Napster program made the industry’s concern real. Copyright law had long had an exemption for “fair use,” and courts had never ruled on the legality of teenagers making mix tapes for their friends. So Fanning created a kind of electronic matchmaking service that let people share music over the internet with pretty much anybody.

Fanning’s friend Sean Parker was also a software genius and had launched a number of successful companies while in high school. Parker raised money for Napster, which made it possible to run a large, centralized server that could store an index of every Napster user currently online and the music they had available for sharing. New users could download the free Napster client, type the name of a song or artist, and instantly get a list of music available for download. The Napster software would then transfer the music directly from one user to the other—peer to peer. It was kind of like making a lot of mix tapes.

The industry saw Napster as a massive copyright-violation machine. And because a single leaked song could end up on Napster and be copied millions of times without cost, music started showing up on Napster before it was available in stores for legitimate purchase. On April 13, 2000, Metallica filed suit against Napster in the Northern District of California for copyright infringement and racketeering, the first such lawsuit against a maker of peer-to-peer file-sharing software. Metallica demanded $100,000 for every song that had been illegally downloaded, with a minimum of $10 million in damages. A year later, on March 5, 2001, the court issued a preliminary injunction requiring Napster to identify and remove all Metallica songs from its system—an all-but-impossible task. After briefly trying to sell the company, Napster’s executives declared bankruptcy, and the company was liquidated.”

SEE ALSO MIDI Computer Music Interface (1983), Diamond Rio MP3 Player (1998)

Chief lobbyist for the Recording Industry Association of America, Mitch Glazier, and Napster lobbyist Manus Cooney during a debate sponsored by the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force.

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