2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Websites and the Internet

Napster is an online music service which was originally a file sharing service created by Shawn Fanning. Napster was the first widely-used peer-to-peer (or P2P) music sharing service, and it made a major impact on how people used the Internet. Its technology allowed music fans to easily share MP3 format song files with each other, thus leading to the music industry's accusations of massive copyright violations. Although the original service was shut down by court order, it paved the way for decentralized P2P file-sharing programs such as Kazaa, Limewire, and BearShare, which have been much harder to control. The popularity and repercussions of the first Napster have made it a legendary icon in the computer and entertainment fields.

Napster's brand and logo continue to be used by a pay service, having been acquired by Roxio.


Shawn Fanning along with volunteer Sean Parker first released the original Napster in June of 1999 while Fanning was attending Northeastern University in Boston. Fanning wanted an easier method of finding music than by searching IRC or Lycos. John Fanning of Hull, Massachusetts, who is Shawn's uncle, struck an agreement which gave Shawn 30% control of the company, with the rest going to his uncle. Napster began to build an office and executive team in San Mateo, California, in September of 1997. Napster was the first of the massively popular peer-to-peer file sharing systems, although it was not fully peer-to-peer since it used central servers to maintain lists of connected systems and the files they provided—directories, effectively—while actual transactions were conducted directly between machines. Although there were already media which facilitated the sharing of files across the Internet, such as IRC, Hotline, and USENET, Napster specialized exclusively in music in the form of MP3 files and presented a user-friendly interface. The result was a system whose popularity generated an enormous selection of music to download.

Irrespective of these justifications, many other users simply enjoyed trading and downloading music for free. With the files obtained through Napster, people frequently made their own compilation albums on recordable CDs, without paying any royalties to the copyright holder (which was usually one of the big record labels). High-speed networks in college dormitories became overloaded, with as much as 80% of external network traffic consisting of MP3 file transfers. Many colleges blocked its use for this reason, even before concerns about liability for facilitating copyright violations on campus. As a partial solution to this issue, Napster was used as a test case for the Abilene Network, the educational Internet backbone.

Legal Challenges

Napster peaked in February 2001
Napster peaked in February 2001

Heavy metal band Metallica discovered that a demo of their song "I Disappear" had been circulating across the Napster network, even before it was released. This eventually led to the song being played on several radio stations across America. This brought to their attention that their entire back catalogue of studio material was also available. The band responded in 2000 by filing a lawsuit against the Napster service. A month later, rapper Dr. Dre shared a litigator and legal firm with Metallica, and filed a similar lawsuit after Napster wouldn't remove his works from their service after he issued a written request. Separately, both Metallica and Dr. Dre later delivered thousands of usernames to Napster who they believed were pirating their songs. Metallica asked their group of users to be banned from the service, while Dr. Dre again asked for his songs to be removed from the service. All users who were on the list of either artist were banned. Napster complied with Metallica's request, but not Dr. Dre's; both the suits continued. Members of the Napster community could get around this ban with a file that soon began circulating after the ban took effect. The ban worked by editing the Windows registry, and this file reversed those changes. A year after they began, Napster settled both lawsuits, but this came after being shut down by the Ninth Circuit Court in a separate lawsuit from several major record labels (see below).

Also in 2000, Madonna, who had previously met with Napster executives to discuss a possible partnership, became irate when her single "Music" leaked out on to the web and Napster prior to its commercial release, causing widespread media coverage. Verified Napster use peaked with 26.4 million users worldwide in February 2001; however, former employees contend that the service had at least 40 million users in June of 2000.

At the time, the lawsuits were opposed by Napster users and supporters. To them, it seemed that file sharing was inevitable on the Internet , and it was not Napster's fault that people used the service to share copyrighted files. These users viewed Napster as a simple search engine. Many argued that any attempt to shut down Napster would simply lead to people using a different medium to exchange files over the Internet. Similarly, many supporters of Napster were concerned about the media's constant use of the word "site" to describe the service, a word which seems to imply that Napster was distributing files itself rather than facilitating their exchange.

Promotional power

With all the accusations that Napster was destroying the record industry there were those who felt just the opposite, that file trading on Napster actually stimulated, rather than hurt, sales. Proof may have come in July 2000 when tracks from Radiohead's album Kid A found their way to Napster three months before the CD's release. Unlike Madonna, Radiohead had never hit the top 20 in the US. Furthermore, it was an experimental album that received little traditional promotion and almost no radio airplay. As MP3 Newswire described, it was a perfect vehicle to test this theory as the effect of Napster was isolated from other elements that could be credited for driving sales.

By the time of the record's release Kid A had been downloaded by millions of people worldwide. The record industry braced for the worst, but then came the big surprise. Kid A not only broke the top 20, it captured the number one spot on the charts in its debut week. The record beat out the CDs of some of the most heavily marketed artists of the time including Madonna and Eminem. In the absence of any other force that could account for this success, Richard Menta of MP3 Newswire declared this was proof that Napster was a promotional power. In the end, shipments of Kid A as well Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief were substantially lower than Radiohead's two previous albums, as tracked by the RIAA's "Searchable Database" .


Napster's facilitation of transfer of copyrighted material raised the ire of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which almost immediately — in December 1999 — filed a lawsuit against the popular service. The service would only get bigger as the trial, meant to shut down Napster, also gave it a great deal of publicity. Soon millions of users, many of them college students, flocked to it.

After a failed appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, an injunction was issued on March 5, 2001 ordering Napster to prevent the trading of copyrighted music on its network. In July 2001, Napster shut down its entire network in order to comply with the injunction. On September 24, 2001, the case was partially settled. Napster agreed to pay music creators and copyright owners a $26 million settlement for past, unauthorized uses of music, as well as an advance against future licensing royalties of $10 million. In order to pay those fees, Napster attempted to convert their free service to a subscription system. A prototype solution was tested in the spring of 2002: the Napster 3.0 Alpha, using audio fingerprinting technology licensed from Relatable. Napster 3.0 was, according to many former Napster employees, ready to deploy, but it had significant trouble obtaining licenses to distribute major-label music.

On May 17, 2002, Napster announced that its assets would be acquired by German media firm Bertelsmann for $8 million. Pursuant to terms of that agreement, on June 3 Napster filed for Chapter 11 protection under United States bankruptcy laws. On September 3, 2002, an American bankruptcy judge blocked the sale to Bertelsmann and forced Napster to liquidate its assets according to Chapter 7 of the U.S. bankruptcy laws. Most of the Napster staff were laid off, and the website changed to display "Napster was here".

Current status

After a $2.43 million takeover offer by the Private Media Group, an adult entertainment company, Napster's brand and logos were acquired at bankruptcy auction by the company Roxio, Inc. which used them to rebrand the pressplay music service as Napster 2.0. As of 2005, this new service has met with moderate success.

Although the central servers used by Napster made it a convenient legal target, the record industry failed to capitalize on the power vacuum left in its wake. The years between Napster's demise and the emergence of the iTunes Music Store as the first popular pay-service were squandered as the five major labels failed to agree on a single service or standard for online distribution, launching several mutually incompatible subscription services such as pressplay and MusicNet.

In the meantime, the peer-to-peer filesharing trend Napster started soon resumed, with new programs and networks picking up the torch. Unofficial Napster servers proliferated, aided by a program known as "Napigator", and a second generation of P2P protocols (including FastTrack and Gnutella) were quickly developed. Designed as decentralized networks, these have been much more challenging for copyright owners to pursue in the courts (see MGM v. Grokster).

The ever-widening availability of broadband has made file sharing even more prevalent, since increasing download speeds mean the distribution of entire movies and other large files is possible. An emerging and cryptographically strong third generation of P2P protocols will be nearly impossible to interdict. In a very real sense, Shawn Fanning can be called the man who opened a Pandora's Box.

Popular Culture

In the 2003 remake of The Italian Job, a flashback depicts Shawn Fanning (playing himself) stealing the program from a computer expert played by Seth Green while the latter is napping, providing a humorous folk etymology for the name.

The suffix "-ster" has become a popular component of the brand names of many Internet products, suggesting a peer-to-peer model, such as Grokster, Aimster (later Madster), and Blubster. This has also been extended to Friendster, a site which vaguely recalls Napster's community-building features.,

An episode of animated television series Futurama, I Dated a Robot, centres on the illegal distribution of robotic celebrity clones over the Internet. The organisation responsible for this was thought to be named "Nappster," a reference to Napster. It was later revealed, however, that the full name was "Kidnappster" with a piece of tapestry covering "Kid" from the logo.

John Titor, a purported time traveller from the year 2036, says that Napster is still distributing music in his time.

In the South Park episode Christian Rock Hard, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny illegally download music from Napster for inspiration for their band 'Moop.' They are then caught by police and shown the horrors music pirating does to musicians. After seeing this, they start a strike and famous musicians/bands join them, among them are Rancid, Master P, Ozzy Osbourne, Meat Loaf (all four also playing in Chef Aid), blink-182, Horny Toad, Metallica, Britney Spears, Missy Elliot, Alanis Morissette and The Lords of the Underworld (minus Timmy).

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