How Napster Changed the World— Why Everyone Under 30 Believes Music Should Be Free

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Today, the practice of downloading music and sharing individual songs and playlists with friends is something that millions of Internet users do on a daily basis. While most of us probably take this ability for granted, there was a time when the concept was unimaginable. That all changed in early 1999, when a Northeastern University student named Shawn Fanning teamed up with his uncle John and close pal Sean Parker to create a way for those online to send music files to each other for free. This peer-to-peer technology was both disruptive and an instant smash with users, who downloaded and shared millions of MP3 files, helping the site become the fastest-growing business in history. The average fan may have been thrilled with the innovative spirit of Napster, but several artists and record labels didn’t share their enthusiasm. In fact, by December of that year, Napster had found itself in the crosshairs of the Recording Industry Association of America. On behalf of artists including Dr. Dre and Metallica and numerous labels, RIAA sued the startup company for piracy, citing their having facilitated the transfer of copyrighted materials without proper consent.

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The case gave the company more publicity than it could’ve imagined, and helped lure even more users to the website. By 2001, Napster had paid out a settlement to copyright owners of well over $35 million and eventually tried to convert to a subscription-based service. However, they quickly discovered that while users loved the music, they didn’t want to pony up dough for it. In 2002, the company’s assets were acquired by a German media firm and Napster had to file for Chapter 11 protection in bankruptcy court. While its time on top of the world was short, its profound impact cannot be denied. In honor of the company’s monumental contributions to the digital world.



DoYouRemember presents Four Things That Probably Wouldn’t Exist Without Napster:

Pandora Radio

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Pandora built its business on being a service that would allow people to listen to music freely and without hassles or threats from disgruntled artists or record labels. There is little doubt that lessons learned from Napster’s precipitous rise and fall were instrumental in Pandora’s eventual success.

Spotify

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The Swedish music-streaming service is basically Napster done the legal way, which makes a ton of sense since one of the main investors in the company is Sean Parker, who plunked down more than $15 million and helped broker licensing deals with both Universal and Warner Music Group.

YouTube

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The third-most-popular website in history, YouTube is basically a video version of Napster, which allows users to upload personal and copyrighted material for others to view and share. The billion-dollar company has had its share of legal issues, as well: An ongoing court battle with Viacom has lasted for more than six years.

iTunes

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This one may rile Steve Jobs loyalists around the globe, but the fact is that while Apple has been at the top of the computer world since the mid 1980s, they didn’t step into the marketplace until 2001, nearly two years after watching Napster test the digital-music-downloading waters. I’m not proclaiming there would be no iPod, iPad or iPhone music library if it hadn’t been for Fanning and Parker’s creation, but….

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