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Update: Napster went under back in 2001 or thereabouts; the logo and name were bought by Roxio, which slapped the branding onto a plain-vanilla music streaming service. Nowhere near as innovative as its vastly more famous predecessor. - NatalieBrown


napster.com was probably the biggest MP3 distribution system in the world. It used a special client program that registered the songs you wished to share when you logged in and unregistered them when you logged out. The songs were registered in a global directory on napster.com, but the client software transferred files directly between end user computers, only using the directory to discover where to get the file.

This decentralized architecture benefitted Napster in two key ways:

  1. It reduced their bandwidth requirements considerably.
  2. When pirated songs were transferred, they were off the hook because they were an "innocent" third party.

Napster was proprietary software and was protective of their IntellectualProperty rights. Moreover, they were sued by the RecordingIndustryAssociationOfAmerica?. Consequently, the GnutellaProject was founded to compete and deal with the loss of the Napster service.

The list of supporting bands could be found at http://napster.com/buycott.html.

Some more on Wiki:NapSter, PirateMusic.


Discussion from when Napster was still around (i.e. pre-2001)

When I first encountered Napster, they were a normal "MP3z" site, linking to foreign servers that actually had the content. Their appeal was that they were really big. Eventually, they switched to requiring client software to actually download the files, which turned into Napster as you know it today.

Napster isn't morally or legally above the position of a common pirate site.

First, they don't believe in dissolving copyright as they voraciously protect their own. They slam Napster-compatible software, keep the protocol private, and sent a cease-and-desist to The Offspring when the band sold Napster T-shirts--and only after a lot of bad press for their hypocrisy did they withdraw the action.

Second, their policy of not hosting content derives completely from the need to avoid prosecution. In America, there is no "aiding and abetting" ruling yet, so linking to illegal content hosted on a foreign server is still legitimate. However, if Napster hosted content, they'd be taken down very fast.

Update With the recent ruling against http://www.2600.org, there now is an "aiding and abetting" ruling in America.

Third, it's one thing to dissolve copyright laws positively by encouraging superior models ala OpenSource, and it's another thing entirely to steal from the copyright holders and profit off them for your own gain. I'm betting that will backfire. Personally, I'd love if music was free for the grabbing, but it's probably better to do it on the artists' terms.

Fourth, the argument that the people would just pirate music anyway is false. In our computer savvy insulated world, perhaps, but many Napster users are new to the phenomenon. It was weird, but I was walking by some men in their early twenties and one was explaining to the other what Napster was. I don't know anyone my age who doesn't know what Napster is. Also, if you've ever been to a burn party, you might notice the type of person who pirates software or MP3s en masse isn't your average Joe. Also, it may be true that people who would steal bikes would anyway because it's in their nature, but that doesn't justify giving away bolt cutters.

Anyway, it's difficult to assert "Napster good. RIAA bad." when both are playing the corporate game, except one is playing ramora to the other. -- SunirShah


Best case scenario of the trial (and totally SF): RIAA and Napster strike a deal to use the LiquidAudio technology Napster has licensed to track RIAA songs. The Napster client then becomes a pay for use system; pennies per song. Since many people are already using Napster, the attrition rate of cheap users will be acceptable.

Dollars per song would be deadly, by the way. Napster works because there is little friction to move songs around. Also, there's the good ol' minmax optimization problem here. Raise the price, lower the number of customers until you've reached a maximal amount of profit.

Once the RIAA signs on, artists will realize that there's no reason to have the RIAA except marketing. Some artists will be able to sell their songs independently. Radio singles will be free giveaways on Napster. -- SunirShah


From http://napster.com 27 July 2000

Message to the Napster Community from Hank Barry, CEO

As you know, the recording industry has sued Napster in order to shut us down. Wednesday in federal court, the Judge issued an order that basically would have the effect of shutting down the Napster service as it currently exists.

We will appeal the Judge's ruling to the Court of Appeals and will ask the Court of Appeals this morning to stay the Judge's order during the appeal.

If we do not get a stay, then we have until midnight Friday to comply with the Judge's order. Although we strongly and firmly disagree with the Judge's decision, we will comply with that decision if it is not stayed.

The Judge's ruling is essentially this: that one-to-one non-commercial file sharing violates the law.

We will fight this ruling in a variety of ways to keep the Napster community growing and strong. We will keep you informed and we will ask for your help. Please check our web site and our application for updates and what you can do.

We intend to see this through in every venue, in every court. We believe in Napster and we believe in the Napster community. Thank you for your support.


From http://napster.com 28 July 2000

A Message to the Napster Community from Hank Barry And Shawn Fanning

Napster CEO Hank Barry today said:

"We're gratified and appreciative of the 9th Circuit Court's decision today to allow the Napster community to continue operating while our appeal of the injunction is pending. We want to thank the Napster community for their support during this period.

"I believe the Napster technology can help everyone involved in music - including artists, consumers, and the industry. New technologies can be a win-win situation if we work together on building new models - and we at Napster are eager to do so."

Napster Founder Shawn Fanning said:

"I am happy and grateful that we do not have to turn away our 20 million users and that we can continue to help artists. We'll keep working and hoping for the best," said Shawn Fanning.

Napster's service will continue in operation, and Napster will continue its positive "Buycott", urging its users to buy the CDs of artists who have come out in support of the music community. Click here for a list [ss: see below for list].

I find it interesting that they continue to use Shawn Fanning as a spokesperson even though he has no role in the company other than wearing his hat backwards in photo ops. Well, it's obvious why. It gives Napster the "young and hip" look even though the board is anything but. "Just competing for some MindShare?, don't mind us."


1 August 2000. It looks like scour.net, the "other" Napster, has a much more solid defense than Napster. http://wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,37884,00.html


September 1, 2000. The following Infoworld article takes aim at the greed of "InformationWantsToBeFree." http://www.infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/00/09/04/000904oppetreley.xml

On the other hand, I just saw this today:


From http://www.hole.com/news/index.html, September 5, 2000:

Due to the wild success of Courtney Love's essay on the music industry (which has so far recieved the most hits ever for an article published at Salon.com), she has been commissioned by a division of HarperCollins? to to write a guidebook for artists that will name names and show good deals and bad deals. There are endless amounts of outrages in the music industry and Courtney is going to show struggling artists how to avoid these pitfalls and come out on top. The book will also attract those interested in a detailed and unrestricted account of the music industry, in all of its glory and shame.

You can find her essay, Love's Manifesto at http://www.hole.com/speech.


Btw, thanks for the help everyone. - NatalieBrown


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