We are spoiled in the way that we’re able to access music today. I’d argue it’s easier to access music today than it’s ever been before. Have you heard of this app called Spotify? You can stream and download practically any song there is for 10 dollars a month.
There’s a much more limited version that’s completely free. Not to mention services like Pandora, I heart radio, tons of others. And what about this site? YouTube. You may have to put up with an ad, but other than that you can hear anything you want for free. All of these services are fairly new. When Napster started in 1999, none of them existed.
I’d go as far as to say Napster is a big part of why they exist today. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the late 90s. There’s a band called Six Pence, None the Richer. And in 1997, they released this delightful song called Kiss Me. It’s Malow and it’s catchy. I recommend you give it a listen if you’re not familiar. Well, back when it was new if you heard the song on the radio and you wanted to buy it.
Well, singles were a thing. But the chances are you were heading down to the record store in dropping. I don’t know. Twenty dollars for their self-titled album. This album sold over one million copies. And I can assure you that people weren’t buying it to hear track three.
The waiting room track is what they really wanted. It does look like their other hit. There she goes. What’s included in the 1999 rerelease. But it’s safe to say that plenty of people essentially paid twenty dollars for one, maybe two songs that they liked.
That’s 10 to 20 dollars per song, meaning the record companies headers are right where they wanted us. So in 1999, this guy named Shawn Fanning, a 19-year-old student at Northeastern University in Boston who also happens to be a genius computer programmer is working on a revolutionary new computer program.
He teams up with another guy named Sean Parker. And this is important. Though, are bold names, Sean. They’re spelled differently. You know what? That was important. But Sean Parker is also a genius. He was actually played by Justin Timberlake in the movie The Social Network. If you’ve seen that movie, he went on to be the initial president of Facebook.
There’s a lot that could be said about these two, as well as others that were involved early on. But let’s keep the focus on Napster. The name Napster actually started as a nickname for Sean Fanning, I guess in high school, a rival basketball team started calling him that based on his hair, and it ended up sticking. He then decided to use Napster as his handle on a hacker Web site where he connected with the people that would help in creating the program.
Fanning eventually dropped out of college to work on Napster full time, and in June of 1999, they launched the program to the public. Let me tell you what it did. Peer to peer music sharing. It wasn’t one central source of music, but instead, it offered a decentralized way for users to share with each other.
It made it so you can download empathies from other people and then other people can download your MP threes. Napster was an easy way of connecting to ensure you can download music from the Internet before this. But it wasn’t very good. You may come across something here or there, but this effectively created an unlimited library of music that you can download for free.
Which in 1999 was an insane concept? And I mean, everything was on there. If you wanted some obscure eight-year-old demo recording from some band most people have never heard of. You had a pretty good chance of finding it there.
And understandably, people were going crazy with it, specifically, college students using those high-speed networks in universities, just downloading songs all day. Now, if you wanted to own Kiss Me, you didn’t have to go to the record store and drop 20 dollars on the album. You can stay at home, find it on Napster and download it for free. So I think you can gather how the record companies felt about Napster. That’s when the lawsuits set in. I can only imagine the stress involved in trying to run this business.
First of all, it was mostly ran by college-age students. Just consider that second of all, it was growing at an incredible rate. According to P.C. World, they had around 80 million registered users at its peak and probably the most stressful part. And they had some of the biggest names in the industry trying to shut them down after only six months of operation.
They were being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America, which you don’t want. Metallica was especially vocal about their stance against them, specifically their drummer, Lars Overegg. See, they made this song called I Disappear.
It was meant to be part of the Mission Impossible to soundtrack when it was still in its demo. A phase when they were still working on it. It somehow found its way onto Napster. And once it’s on Napster, well, it’s out there and it even started playing on the radio. Metallica was understandably not happy about this. Listen to this. They even hired an agency together, the names of over 300000 people that were downloading Metallica songs off the site once they had the list.
They demanded everyone on it be banned from Napster. This all-cause quite a backlash against Metallica. The public saw them as backing the record companies rather than their fans, which is what they were doing.
Southpark made fun of it. The joke was that Metallica was already so rich. Why would they care about a few people sharing their songs with each other? Now, Lars has always maintained that it was about control rather than the money. Well, hang on. It’s not about money. It’s about control. But they had a point. I think looking back from today, we could see it a little clearer. But this site is illegal.
The amount of money Metallica has is not relevant to that argument. Plus, they were the ones putting themselves out there fighting for the smaller artists who were relying on that money. And yes, they could have handled it better. They could have been less obnoxious about it and maybe attacking their fans like that wasn’t the smartest move.
But we can see what they were trying to do now. I don’t want to get lost in the legal arguments presented during these trials because I think we can see how a service that effectively offers unlimited downloads of all the music in the world without compensating anyone is illegal. Even though they weren’t providing the files themselves, they were connecting people and allowing it to happen.
It was basically ruled that they were infringing on copyright laws. In early 2001, the court ordered that Napster had to somehow stop the trading of all copyrighted material on their network, which proved to be next to impossible.
They did develop a system that could cut out 98 to 99 percent of it, but they couldn’t get that to 100 percent. So a few months later, in July of 2001, the site was shut down. The plan was to use this downtime to get the subscription plan together that would allow them to pay the artists. And in turn, it would be a more legitimate business, but it never worked out.
Napster is the peer to peer file-sharing network that it became known for, existed from the summer of 1999 to the summer of 2001, just over two years. And most of those two years were a struggle to stay in business. But it did so much in that little time that 19-year-old college dropout, along with his programmer hacker friends, created a program that captured the attention of the entire music industry. Big-name artists like Metallica and Dre. And just about every record label.
Not to mention 80 million users who downloaded billions of songs from it. It sparked a change in the industry. It demonstrated that new technology has shifted power away from the record companies to the people. That’s why it’s so much better for the people now. It started this wave of other music sharing sites like Livewire, which I can only describe as a sketchier version of Napster, but also legitimate sites. Notably, iTunes, which allows the user to digitally by individual songs and you know the rest.
However, you hear music today. I don’t think it would exist without a service like Napster providing that spark to finish up the Napster story. That Napster name did live on past that 2001 shut down. About a year later, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and through the bankruptcy court, a software company called Roxio bought them for five point three million dollars.
Likely because the brand was such a sensation and it held value that Napster name, along with a cat wearing the headphones and the logo. That’s a cool logo. Roxio made it into a legitimate subscription slash pay for song service branded as Napster 2.0. And I kind of like that name. In 2008, the service that now had a reported 700000 subscribers was bought by Best Buy for one hundred and twenty-one million dollars.
\Three years later, in 2011, Best Buy sold it to another music streaming service called Rhapsody. It’s unclear how many subscribers they had at that time. It didn’t seem to be a great fit for Best Buy. Plus, the competition was getting pretty fierce. So I’m guessing it was fewer than the 700000 that they had when Best Buy bought it. And Rhapsody already had 800000 subscribers at the time of the 2011 deal.
So this was obviously an attempt to grow their share in the market. That’s where Napster remains today. They even rebranded themselves a few years ago and now use the name Napster. Can you believe it? In this day and age, I just downloaded the Napster app onto my phone.
It says it’s twelve ninety-nine a month, cancel any time. Unlimited access to millions of songs you can download then. Mobile web and home devices, it looks pretty darn similar to Spotify to me. It just goes to show that strong brands like this never seem to die.
Let me know in the comments. What do you think about Napster? There’s some good and some bad here on the negative end. They took advantage of a new technology that the legal system hadn’t caught up with yet. And we’re able to keep this crazy service running for two years without compensating the people who, let’s face it, should have been compensated.
But on the positive end, it sparked some much-needed change in the industry. I refuse to buy that sixpence none the richer album. Yet I’m still able to listen to the song that I like from multiple sources. Also, I’m curious how you feel about Metallica, specifically Lars Oelrich. At the time, everyone seemed to think that they were out of line with their feud with Napster. But looking back at it today.
I think we’re a little more understanding of their mission. Also, is there anyone watching this? That was one of those 80 million users of the real deal, peer to peer file sharing Napster. Please tell us about that. I’d like to hear what you have to say.