Early History of Napster

by Moya K. Mason

While finishing his freshman year at Northeastern University, Shawn Fanning decided to create a piece of software that would allow people to search for and share MP3 files they had trouble finding. He then founded a company, Napster, Inc. in May of 1999, dropped out of school, and moved to northern California. Napster quickly became the world's largest community for sharing music files because it allowed easy searching, had a user-friendly interface, let users communicate with each other in various ways (i.e. chat), and to share each others' bookmarks.

Due to the recording industry's efforts to close Napster down, many of the music sharing enthusiasts who had made it such a popular phenomenon moved on to use other services, such as Gnutella, AudioGalaxy, and Freenet. This was even more problematic for those concerned with copyright issues because these new services didn't have centralized servers or organizational structures to shut down.

Legal Timeline

In August 1999, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) contacted the management of the then new company, Napster. The RIAA told them that although they thought Napster had an interesting technology, its business model was a violation of their member's copyrights. At the time, Napster only had a few thousand users. The RIAA suggested that they stop offering the music-sharing service and go through the proper channels to get permission to use copyrighted materials. When Napster did not respond favorably a lawsuit was filed against it in December 1999.

"We've won the revolution. It's all over but the litigation. While that drags on, it's time to start building the new economic models that will replace what came before. We don't know exactly what they'll look like, but we do know that we have a profound responsibility to be better ancestors: What we do now will likely determine the productivity and freedom of 20 generations of artists yet unborn. So it's time to stop speculating about when the new economy of ideas will arrive. It's here. Now comes the hard part, which also happens to be the fun part: making it work
-- The Next Economy Of Ideas: Will Copyright Survive the Napster Bomb? by John Perry Barlow

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