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:
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.
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.
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
From http://napster.com 28 July 2000
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:
You can find her essay, Love's Manifesto at http://www.hole.com/speech.
Btw, thanks for the help everyone. - NatalieBrown