The History of Napster

For better or worse, Napster changed the music industry. It cannot be denied that this online service paved the way for music to become easier to access and widely available online. Napster started a revolution in the digital music industry by setting the music free, which has allowed for the quick and easy access people have to it today.

Starting out as a program that didn’t pose much of a threat to the record companies, which were busy amassing riches, Napster soon changed the way music was written and consumed. It was an important step in bringing about the end of music being under the complete control of record companies. 

With the introduction of Napster, new music artists and songs became much easier to discover. But after some time, it started to face some legal trouble. These legal troubles would eventually end up resulting in Napster being shut down. 

But the idea of music being free and easy to access was now out there, and this idea wasn’t dying out. Napster would then be rebranded and grow to be one of the most well-known music platforms. The history of Napster can be instructive for us.

Although much debate remains as to whether Napster was a good invention or bad, we can still discuss its history and draw our own conclusions.

What is Napster?

Napster_corporate_logoNapster was founded by two great minds, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. It is a peer-to-peer file-sharing service used to share MP3 files. After its introduction, Napster faced legal challenges, which eventually led to the service being shut down. Later on, Napster was purchased by Roxio after it was forced to be liquidated. 

Napster refers to three online services. The main focus of these services is music. The service became extremely popular upon its introduction boasting millions of users worldwide. This large user base was because Napster provided easy access to music completely free. The freedom that artists gained through Napster was unlike anything they felt before.  

It allowed for music to be shared efficiently without hassle, allowing people to discover new genres such as rock and pop music with ease. Napster had a huge impact on the music industry, forever changing how music is shared and consumed as it boasted around 80 million registered users at its height of popularity. 

Getting Music from the Internet before Napster

Getting music from the internet before Napster was a long process. Although there were networks such as Hotline or Usenet, which allowed for files to be shared across the internet, it could take hours and a lot of tries before you could download a specific song. Finding the specific song you wanted was also very hard, and sometimes you couldn’t find it at all. 

Even if you found the song, you would have to spend hours trying to download the song as the downloading process was unreliable and would fail a lot. These problems made music very hard to access. This would result in the foundation of online services similar to Napster becoming an important part of the music industry as they provided a platform from which music could be accessed and consumed easily. 

The Creation of Napster

Born on 20 November 1980 in Massachusetts, Shawn envisioned a method of finding music that would be more efficient and better than other services of the time, such as Hotline, Usenet, or IRC. 

While working at the internet company of his uncle, he came up with this idea and wrote the code for Napster. It took him months to finish the code, but in the end, he was successful. Napster was envisioned as an anonymous peer-to-peer service that was going to be used to share files. It was specially designed to share MP3 files between users. 

This system was decentralized, allowing the music to be essentially free for the duration Napster was available. The name Napster came from the founder Shawn. Shawn was nicknamed “Napster” because of his hairstyle. The service was launched in 1999, and it would continue to run and be popular until the court ordered it to be shut down in 2001. During its short run, the company was mostly run by John Fanning, Shawn’s uncle. An agreement was reached, giving Shawn 30% control of the company, and the rest went to John.

Napster rapidly became popular, amassing a huge user base. It was designed exclusively for music files, making it a much more efficient way to get them than other options. 

How Napster Worked

Napster was a P2P (peer-to-peer) system that could be used to share files. It utilized a central server, so it was not fully a P2P system. The central server was used to keep lists of the provided files and the connected computers. Actions such as the transfer of files would take place directly between client computers. 

Napster was focused on MP3 files and boasted a large selection of music files that the users could download. It allowed users to share the MP3 files stored on their computers with everyone connected to the network. This meant that anyone could find a song they wanted on someone else’s computer and download it using Napster. 

Napster was responsible for the popularization and emergence of music being shared through the internet using a decentralized P2P system. The service was free and simple to set up. Once a user had the software set up, they could simply run it, connect to the internet and then type in the name of the song they wanted. The software would then connect them with another user who had a copy of that song saved on their computer from where it could be downloaded.

Napster rapidly became popular. The user base skyrocketed, with millions of people downloading and consuming music using Napster. All of this popularity would bring the platform to the attention of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). 

Napster Faces Legal Challenges

As Napster did not control the sharing of copyrighted files, RIAA filed a lawsuit against it. This led to a lengthy court battle. The lawsuit was for the distribution of copyrighted material without proper authorization. In 2001, the court ended up forcing Napster to shut down. Napster had to liquidate its assets.

Napster Gets Shut Down

Napster Gets Shut Down

Once Napster’s Assets were liquidated, Roxio bought its brand name, trademarks, and technology portfolio. This purchase was approved by the overseeing bankruptcy court. Roxio would go on to rebrand a music store it owned called PressPlay to Napster 2.0.

Best Buy later acquired Napster. Then it was merged with Rhapsody, which started to rebrand its service as Napster. Napster was then sold to MelodyVR on 25 August 2020. 

The Emergence of Copycat Software

After Napster got shut down, quite few copycat software emerged. But none of them came even close to being as popular. In a way, Napster changed the rules of music consumption by revolutionizing the distribution of music. No copycat service could match this feat. 

Conclusion

Napster brought people from across the world together and provided easy and free access to music. It can be said that it is the reason why today the songs we want are one or two clicks away. Napster provided music with freedom ensuring that everyone had access to it easily, and its effects can be seen in today’s world.