Napster, first started by college student Shawn Fanning in 1999 that facilitated the sharing of recorded songs over the Internet, had been completely shut down by September of 2002, due to multiple charges that the website violated copyright infringement
The issues surrounding the birth and death of Napster are not new. The music industry became concerned when cassette tapes were invented, and tried to prevent the manufacture and sale of VCR's (Levy, 2000). Ultimately these new media forms worked to the benefit of music and movie industries. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that making single copies of TV shows or movies broadcast on TV for personal use was legal. Distribution of VCR or DVD versions of movies is now a major part of the movie industry's income.
Napster, however, was not a new form of media. It was a new form of distribution, using the Internet to send music files in digital form. Napster provided the central file server. Individuals uploaded songs to Napster's file server and could download songs they didn't have (Dolinar, 2001), sort of like a giant Internet swap meet. Napster had not only the current hits of the days but obscure older recordings that could no longer be purchased easily. Napster users then often downloaded these recordings to MP3 players or used their own computers to burn CD's containing their select favorite songs. For the first time, people could have CD's that reflected their personal taste. One CD might contain songs from many different artists and original issue CD's.
Because Napster was free and enhanced people's enjoyment of music, it became immensely popular. At one point, Napster membership was doubling every six weeks (Levy, 2000), and by the time it closed, it had 60 million accounts (Stern, 2001). Most of Napster's fans believed what they were doing was legal for several reasons. Because it was free, it was not like selling bootleg copies of recordings, a practice known to be illegal for years. The users believed that sharing recordings with friends was no different than the Supreme Court ruling that allows people to make copies of performances for their personal use. What is more personal than sharing with friends?
Courts, however, took a different view. Those 60 million people had never met each other and were not friends, and in addition, making a copy of a tape or CD to give to a friend is illegal. Napster was particularly vulnerable because its only purpose was to pass copyrighted files from one person to another. Legally, "this is akin to owning a lock pick rather than a screwdriver. It shows intent" (Dolinar, 2001). In court, Lawyers representing the recording industry argued that such file sharing promoted illegal activities (Wilborn, 2002). Napster's lawyers argued that they could not control what their users did with the files they downloaded.
Many groups of people were hurt financially by the free distribution of copyrighted recordings. The record companies lost sales, but in addition, the songwriters lost royalties - money they get paid each time their song is bought or performed for money (Wilborn, 2002). Songwriters make their living from these royalties, and some said that Napster was denying songwriters millions of dollars in money they were entitled to (Wilborn, 2002). Recording groups such as Metallica sued not only Napster but also colleges whose computer connections allowed their students to use Napster (Levy, 2000).
The Internet is a bigger threat to the recording and movie industries because it facilitates "piracy," or distribution of unauthorized copies of their works, in several ways. When the recording media used was records and tapes, making a copy caused some degradation of quality. Second and third generation copies suffered in quality. However, when a song is downloaded from the Internet, it goes from a digitized format to a digitized format, with no loss of quality. In addition, by using a server such as Napster and high-speed connections, many people can rapidly get high-quality copies.
Several court rulings have had a major impact and have shut Napster down. Napster argued that the recording and movie industry, which is just as threatened by Napster as the music industry is, should find a way to profit from this new technology, just as they did after the invention of the VCR. They pointed to a ruling last year…