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Music Piracy Software The Internet Technology

Napster: the Day the Music Was Set Free 243

theodp writes "Before iTunes, Netflix, MySpace, Facebook, and the Kindle, 17-year-old Shawn Fanning and 18-year-old Sean Parker gave the world Napster. And it was very good. The Observer's Tom Lamont reports on VH1's soon-to-premiere Downloaded, a documentary that tells the story of the rise and fall of the file-sharing software that started the digital music revolution, and shares remembrances of how Napster rocked his world. 'I was 17,' writes Lamont, 'and the owner of an irregular music collection that numbered about 20 albums, most of them a real shame (OMC's How Bizarre, the Grease 2 soundtrack). One day I had unsupervised access to the family PC and, for reasons forgotten, an urge to hear the campy orchestral number from the film Austin Powers. I was a model Napster user: internet-equipped, impatient and mostly ignorant of the ethical and legal particulars of peer-to-peer file-sharing. I installed the software, searched Napster's vast list of MP3 files, and soon had Soul Bossa Nova plinking kilobyte by kilobyte on to my hard drive.' Sound familiar?"
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Napster: the Day the Music Was Set Free

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  • by gunnarbeutner ( 2337576 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @03:42PM (#42996707)
    Clearly proofreading very wasn't very good.
  • Audiogalaxy

    Now acquired by Dropbox :(

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @03:47PM (#42996747)


    • by mister_playboy ( 1474163 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @04:32PM (#42997057)

      Between St. Anger and the Napster battle, those were very bad times for Metallica. Their reputation has never recovered since.

    • by Dexter Herbivore ( 1322345 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @04:39PM (#42997085) Journal
      You know what saddens me the most? NONE of the music executives/Metallica goons looked at Napster and went, "Holy shit! This is the way of the future, let's investigate this distribution option and adapt it to our own purposes".
      • by gmuslera ( 3436 )

        Even today they should be put in a torture chamber to force to recognize that the music boom of today was in good part thanks to that kind of file sharing.

        On second tought, given how RIAA and similars had abused the system since them, that they recognize it is optional, but the torture chamber is a good idea anyway.

      • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @05:13PM (#42997339)

        They didn't have need to, really. The power of Napster's p2p model was to eliminate hosting costs - the amount of data Napster shifted would have cost a fortune by conventional means. But if you're running a business, that's not an issue. iTunes doesn't use p2p. The only thing that the industry should have learned from Napster was that customers really want convenience and speed.

        • by nametaken ( 610866 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @06:22PM (#42997835)

          The only thing that the industry should have learned from Napster was that customers really want convenience and speed.

          Right, and perhaps just as important, that people didn't want a $16 CD of shitty filler to get the one song they heard on the radio. But the industry didn't learn those things. Instead they were dragged, kicked and screaming, into the iTunes model. Meanwhile file-sharing never died... it got better, and legitimate music purchasing has had to get better to compete with it. Everything has gotten easier, cheaper, more organized, with better quality and consistency. In every way, people won.

          Now it's TV's turn. That industry refuses to look five years in the future, so they'll be forced, just as it was with music. People don't want all the garbage that comes with the one thing they like, and they won't tolerate the obscene bill and mandatory advertising.

          Today you can spend $35 on a computer, add a free software plugin, and immediately call up any television show you want in HD, no commercials, on demand, for free. It's only going to get better and that industry is going to have to compete or die.

          Buggy whip manufacturers have to evolve and it's seldom voluntary.

          • I read an interview with a TV exec where he stated that viewers "Who use DVRs, Hulu, iTunes, etc and are NOT sitting in front of their TV sets when the show airs will see their favourite programs all get cancelled". People pay more for freely available content today than any other time in history. If the broadcast industry refuses to adapt, it is destined to fail.
      • by Kenshin ( 43036 )

        Well, they did say "Holy shit! This is the way of the future, let's investigate this distribution option...", but they ended it with "... and try to hold it back as long as we can."

      • Exactly. In an alternate universe, the music industry didn't sue Napster into submission (resulting in Gnutella and the P2P wave). Instead, the music industry bought Napster and turned it into the first major online music store. You were still allowed to share songs freely (under a certain bitrate - the equivalent of taping off the radio for free) but were also given the option to purchase reasonably priced DRM-free MP3s as well.*

        * Hey, I said it was an alternate universe. This is one strange alternate

  • I remember using Napster on dial-up (don't think broadband was available or at least not affordable or common). It basically took the same amount of time to download a song as it was long, i.e. 4 minutes to download a 4-minute song.

    • It took 20-25 minutes for me and so often they would fail. It was a real blessing when they brought in the resume functionality. My computer was hardly able to play a MP3, had to stop everything else and fire up Ye Olde Resource Intensive MP3 Player Application. 133MHz Pentium 1 and a 56k modem with a 25 pin RS-232 cable
      • by spune ( 715782 )
        On a machine with the same specs, I was able to play multiple videos simultaneously without delay or any other problem, running BeOS. Of course I had to download everything in windows, though...
      • by Tarlus ( 1000874 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @04:13PM (#42996913)

        Yeah, I had a sizeable collection of half-songs there for a while...

      • Back then I was talking about it with a guy who knew computing well. He looks at me gravely and says, "That's a bad site.". That's all he said about it. About a month later I terminated someone trying to upload a rare Beatles song I had, at 33kps he was killing my bandwidth / download, whch I explained to him. He got even by remotely altering my Win98 settings that made the screen resolution unusable. I spent weeks trying to figure out and undo what he did. I finally had to run the restore disks, wiping the
        • by uberdilligaff ( 988232 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @04:25PM (#42997009)
          I wonder whether it taught you a lesson about backups...
          • I wonder whether it taught you a lesson about backups...

            I had an iomega drive with a few 100mb disks, had already given it to a friend's wife for her business (she still has it). That's about the best there was then. I think it was 900 songs I lost then, no way to easily backup 2gigs then. You lose in life sometimes, but there's a happy ending. Now I have over 10,000 mp3s (mostly ripped from my local library's CD collection), backed up to a couple of 64gb flashdrives and 32gb micro sdcards. I've learned the 3 B's of computing by now. Backup, backup, backup! :-)

          • by gig ( 78408 )

            Proper backup of Windows 98 is not possible. There is always a wipe-and-install.

        • Yeah, I could imagine that the Napster client was quite swiss cheese what it comes to security.
          • Yeah, I could imagine that the Napster client was quite swiss cheese what it comes to security.

            Yep, turns out Napster was full of exploitable holes, only 'real' computer nerds knew those tricks then. That guy could've done worse, if he'd wanted to, formatted the drive or something. I got my computer "spanked" instead. A post above reminds me that is was a kind of half-assed music collection I had, lots of half songs from being knocked offline. I swear, kids today don't know how rough we had it back in the nineties!

      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        I found that a 100MHz 486 was all that was required to play a MP3 smoothly, you must have used a crappy MP3 player and/or operating system.
        I do remember it taking days to encode a MP3 on a 33MHz 386 with no math co-processor.

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Heh. I still have some of those downloaded MP3s from 1997! Before Napster, I remember using FTP search, hosting server, etc. on my dial-up modems (14.4k too!)!

  • by Dan667 ( 564390 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @03:51PM (#42996783)
    That is really the bigger story. Even now, instead of making money hand over fist printing digital money the riaa would rather create artificial barriers and ridiculous price points for online distribution. If Apple had not dragged them kicking and screaming into the mp3 drm-less world they would have probably broken their cartel by now.
    • Yeah, I wish the MPAA would figure it out too. There are obviously lots of advantages to having media in digital form, and iTunes (and others) have shown people will pay for content as long as its drop-dead convenient - even without DRM.

      I rip every DVD and Blu-Ray disk I buy, and I strip the DRM off any digital movie I buy, so I can have access to my media wherever I want... but the average consumer can't/won't go to the trouble to set up their own streaming setup. And much as I like Netflix, they're not a

      • by alen ( 225700 )

        I have an Apple TV and stream Netflix, ITunes and MLB on it

        Like most people I have to plans to buy a nas for a 10tb movie library to stream. There are other things to do other than watch movies all the time. And I would buy the DVD before buying a nas just to hold compressed blu ray rips

    • by Lanboy ( 261506 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @05:27PM (#42997415)

      This is my main conspiracy theory. The years that napster ran unchecked, glorious, glorious years, were the years that the RIAA recorded their greatest profits, level of profit that they have not equaled since. I think that unfettered access to music of all genres makes people better music consumers. I personally became excited about music as I had not been since my youth ( I am an old ) . I bought more cds, I went to more concerts. I have tapered off again because it is just harder to get things done, so I don't bother. The numbers say I am not alone.

      I feel the real reason the music companies are terrified of electronic music distribution is twofold.

      One, maintaining limited participation in music distribution to protect the status quo, it democratizes the process creating methods of distribution that a smart player could get involved and push the old fogeys out.

      Two, electronic music distribution makes the tracking of music sales trivial, and the accurate assignment of funds to the correct copyright holders, and audit by same go from a difficult and arcane process to a simple exercise in database management. This is the last fucking thing the labels want. Since the beginning of the recording industry, the most powerful and profitable labels have gotten there by screwing the musicians. Hiding overseas profits, disguising sales and production runs, overstating promotional costs, accounting errors ( never in the favor of the artist, I assure you ) anything, actualy, to hide the actual profits from the musicians, and send it to the record companies' coke habits.
      Try to watch a music documentary from the past 50 years. Find one where the label wasn't fucking the artist over. The labels don't want this to change, this is why they have to be dragged into digital music by their shorthairs, they need time to set up the structures to screw the artists out of their due. If you are ever wondering why packaged and cookie cutter artists seem to thrive, it is because they are more easily bilked out of the profits.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The years that napster ran unchecked, glorious, glorious years, were the years that the RIAA recorded their greatest profits, level of profit that they have not equaled since.

        Largely coincidental, IMO. The economy was booming, and the mainstream media still dominated the cultural narrative. Much of those profits were teenyboppers buying Britney Spears CDs and baby boomers trying to re-live their youth with some oldass rock bands. Napster widened the perspective of a lot of people, but in the big picture, it was small potatoes.

        If the Internet sharing effect were real, you would expect that live concerts and memorabilia would be a booming business now. Instead music biz revenues h

    • They wouldn't be making any money. That's the point. They are no longer needed because artists can get their music directly to the fans, no physical reproduction or distribution necessary. They are also terrified of Amazon and Apple who could easily become the next big music labels and crush them.

      In the UK we have one high street chain music retailer left, and half its stores just closed as it went into administration. Soon the only places selling physical music will be supermarkets, who are big enough to screw the BPI and all the music labels who are part of it.

      We are seeing the desperate thrashing about of a wounded animal as it gets ripped apart.

  • by timmyf2371 ( 586051 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @04:13PM (#42996917)
    I used to use Napster and subsequently Audiogalaxy back over 28.8k dial-up and it took around 20 minutes to download an MP3 (always at 128Kbps bitrate). These days, I can get a 1080p Blu-Ray rip in that same 20 minutes. It was always a joy seeing a new track had been completed.

    The thing I loved about Napster was that there was loads of cover songs and live performances on there and it was so easy to use.

    Then when it all came tumbling down thanks to Metallica et al, seeing all the replacements pop up all over the place. Kazaa, Limewire etc all full of viruses and dodgy bitrate files.

    These days, it's not worth the hassle to go pirate music anymore so I just pay for Spotify Premium. It is probably closest in functionality to Napster and has a great selection of mainstream and random tracks.
  • by theodp ( 442580 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @04:26PM (#42997021)

    Want to screw with the USPTO? Nominate Fanning and Parker for a National Medal of Technology and Innovation [uspto.gov], "the highest honor awarded by the president of the United States to America's leading innovators." Funny thing is, they probably deserve it!

  • And before that we had the video cassette. For videos we had VHS.
    Also : music is NOT set free. The last time music was free was before copyright.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @04:51PM (#42997177)

    What I liked best about the early Napster is that collectors shared a trove of unreleased and rare material. Demos, live cuts, b-sides, non-album tracks - almost anything I could think of, I'd type it in and download it. I got digital versions of stuff that would have taken me man-years to digitize from the originals I had (LPs, cassettes, etc), and stuff that would have cost bazillions to buy from dealers. Remember, back then in the late 90s, the current practice of adding rare tracks like b-sides to CD releases of LP records (which were usually about 40 minutes long, giving plenty of room for extra tracks on the CD) was just beginning, so a lot of this material was very, very rare. As Napster got more popular, all this stuff faded away quickly to be replaced by stuff you could buy in stores on CD. I've always thought that was one of the greatest tragedies of file sharing.

    • by gig ( 78408 )

      If that was all you could find on Napster, it would have had a legitimate reason to exist and might still be around today.

  • First Chance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @05:00PM (#42997251)

    Napster was the first and last chance that the music industry was GIVEN to embrace digital distribution, they instead chose to embrace the legal system. The result was that Napster (Not a P2P service but a centralized & controllable service) was shut down.

    Who'd have thought that the largest market demand possible would cause someone to develop a product?

    Then came P2P, which they are suing the operators of Search engines / Indexers.

    The came distributed P2P so they are suing the users.

    Next comes anonymous & encrypted P2P

  • Figures they'd think napster was the beginning. there were many ways to download music long before napster. napster was simply the first to get caught with legal troubles.

    • Yes, there were indeed ways to download music long before Napster. There were ways to "copyright infringe" music before computers. Let me break it down for you...

      Before Napster, there were FTP sites you could browse. Today, you can google $SOME_ARTIST, $SOME_SONG, and "Parent Directory" and usually find what you want...but that was far from the norm in the days of AltaVista. Usenet browsing is similarly possible if you're able and willing to dig.

      Before using the internet, we used our 4x CD burners to copy C

  • by gig ( 78408 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:55PM (#42998525)

    Napster totally sucked unless all you wanted to do was generate a high file count in your MP3 collection. You might as well just record the radio in that case. The rips were awful quality, the labels were often wrong, and the version of the song you got was often not the one you wanted.

    The one exception might be that you could find rare live versions or alternate versions of a track in some cases that were previously harder to find. If that had been Napster's focus — sharing music that wasn't available on CD — then it would have had a reason to exist.

    I think iTunes is better in every way. Yes, you have to pay, but it is a small amount and you get exactly what you wanted, you never have to pay again as you download for life to whatever devices you want, and in many cases today, almost all of what you pay goes directly to the artist. If you don't like a song enough to pay for it on iTunes, then listen to it on the radio or as part of a monthly subscription service of some kind. If you like a song enough to pay for it on iTunes, you'll have it forever.

  • by devent ( 1627873 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @09:54PM (#42999257) Homepage

    Napster was the future, 12 years ego.

    If we had sane copyright durations (aka 28 years with possibility for an extension) then the music industry should have been forced to adopt the new technology and make music available more convenient, faster and cheaper. No, copyright is not to ensure a business practices through technological innovations and no, not to ensure profits.

    If anything copyright durations should been shortened with each new technology, because the time-to-market gets faster and the costs are lower.

    How many jobs does this insane copyright durations costs? How many new distribution technologies are killed because of lobbying of one stakeholder? How many innovations are not invented because of the not available public domain and not available fair use?

  • by WillgasM ( 1646719 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:17PM (#43004545) Homepage
    Back when everyone had 56k, our school had a full T1. Every computer in the lab had napster installed. We would stay late every day downloading and burning. We actually started a computer club just to make it seem legit (we also LAN partied starcraft with a single cd). Our IT guy at the time was kinda my mentor. While the other kids were downloading music, he was teaching my how to download movies from FTP servers on irc trackers. You might have to wait in queue for the FTP server, but once it was your turn, you'd DL an entire movie in minutes. Those were the good 'ol days.

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