The Napster Revolution
How MP3s Changed the Internet & the Music Industry

Napster Logo

In June 1999 Shawn Fanning created a music sharing software called Napster which allowed people to share their music with strangers in the form of mp3s. The file type mp3s had been around for awhile so it was simply a matter of time before someone figured out how to share them online. By the summer of 2000 Napster had grown in popularity and was the buzz of teenagers, college students and the internet savvy. Copyright issues however eventually led to the demise of Napster as multiple lawsuits forced the free service to be shut down by July 2001.

But by then it was too late. Like radio and Sony double tape decks (during the 1980s) mp3s were here to stay. A dozen Napster copycats had sprung up over night, notably Gnutella, WinMX and others.

The new file sharing software didn't limit people to just music. They could also trade photos, video, book PDFs, games and software programs. Thus by opening it up to everything to be traded willy-nilly copyright issues became rather problematic. Some of the new software didn't require a central server but instead communicate peer-to-peer, which meant it couldn't be shut down.

Winamp Logo

Mp3s also created a new industry. People wanted to listen to their mp3s in a fun/convenient way so they began downloading programs like WinAmp and RealMusic. The biggest change came in the version of people buying mp3 players and Apple Computers came out with the ever popular iPod and iTunes.

The music industry of course was not happy. People were downloading their music for free and have been looking for ways that they can make some cash off of the Napster Revolution. CD sales have dropped from 730 million in 2000 to 593 million in 2005. CD sales in 2008 are expected to drop to 450 million.

It is difficult to track how much people are downloading mp3s. Some companies that sell mp3s (such as Apple iTunes) track how many sales they make and give a percentage to the music industry, but the majority of people still download their mp3s via friends or peer-to-peer filesharing networks.

The music industry has been pressuring the government to do something about the mp3 industry, but frankly the situation has only become more uncontrollable. Governments are powerless and the internet is essentially a Wild West of Music Downloads. Hollywood and the TV/movie industry is also suffering as people now frequently share movies, TV shows via peer-to-peer networks and also YouTube.

Back in the 1980s Sony came out with double tape decks that allowed people to copy music for their friends and create mix tapes. The music industry was upset and took Sony to court, but Sony won and the double tape decks stayed popular. By the 1990s CD/tape decks allowed people to copy tracks off CDs too. The nature of music has always been to share it, so it came as no surprise that the internet age would have plenty of music sharing.

Sony Double Tape Deck

During the 1990s the music industry relied on copy-control technologies, supported by additional legal measures, to curtail unauthorized copying. It also lobbied for the establishment of a private copying levy on blank media to compensate for the copying that technology could not control.

Ten years later, that strategy is fall apart at the seems. The use of copy-controls has proven to be a complete failure. Despite generating more than $200 million in revenue for the industry and artists, the Canadian Recording Industry Association has abandoned support for the private copying levy.

Apple iPod

CRIA has asked the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal to allow it to intervene in the current fight over the application of the levy to Apple iPods. Rather than supporting the extension of the levy, it surprisingly wants the court to strike it down, thereby reducing revenues to artists.

Why the change of heart? CRIA now admits in court documents that the extension "broadens the scope of the private copying exception to avoid making illegal file sharers liable for infringement." In other words, the levy creates a compensation system that legalizes peer-to-peer music downloads.

As the industry dithers with its failed strategy, musicians have begun to take matters into their own hands. Last year, the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, which includes some of Canada's most acclaimed musicians, spoke out openly against suing fans and the use of copy-controls.

Radiohead In Rainbows Cover

A growing number of international stars are following suit. In 2007 Radiohead released its latest CD (In Rainbows) without copy-controls on its website under a pay-as-you-like system.

The Radiohead announcement has unleashed a stunning series of follow-up moves reports indicate that Nine Inch Nails, Oasis, Jamiroquai, the Charlatans, and Madonna have either left or are ready to leave their record labels in search of greater commercial success through live performances, merchandise sales and other online innovation that might even include free distribution of their music.

Other artists are exploring new distribution partnerships the Eagles are selling their latest CD directly to Wal-Mart, Prince distributed millions of copies of his latest CD for free in Britain in a newspaper promotion, and Nettwerk Records, one of Canada's leading independent labels, combined with a newspaper to offer free downloads of some of its most popular artists.

The rapid pace of innovation highlights the fact that artists and consumers are responding to the new digital reality. As the digital music market continues to grow governments ought to remind lobby groups that it is the lack of innovation not government intervention that lies at the heart of their tales of woe.

In recent years Napster has been trying to make a comeback, becoming a pay service in an effort to become legal and win back fans. They've even released ads attacking the 30 second previews that other sites offer (see the YouTube video on the right).

The problem with the "new and improved Napster" is that its too late. The cat is out of the bag. Some people may be willing to pay for their music, especially if they really love the musician or the band in question, but most people are not going to pay to download tracks by musicians they've (a) never heard of or (b) don't care that much about.

MP3 Search
Since the Napster Revolution back in 2000 people have been looking for new ways to share mp3s. Many people have gone the file-sharing route, but there's always been a second option: Searching the internet for the mp3 you want. In the search bar below just type the name of the musician, the song and click Search.

About MP3s

MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, more commonly referred to as MP3, is a digital audio encoding format using a form of lossy data compression.

It is a common audio format for consumer audio storage, as well as a de facto standard encoding for the transfer and playback of music on digital audio players.

MP3 is an audio-specific format that was co-designed by several teams of engineers at Fraunhofer IIS in Erlangen, Germany, AT&T-Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ, USA, Thomson-Brandt, and CCETT. It was approved as an ISO/IEC standard in 1991.

The use in MP3 of a lossy compression algorithm is designed to greatly reduce the amount of data required to represent the audio recording and still sound like a faithful reproduction of the original uncompressed audio for most listeners, but is not considered high fidelity audio by audiophiles. An MP3 file that is created using the mid-range bit rate setting of 128 kbit/s will result in a file that is typically about 1/10th the size of the CD file created from the original audio source. An MP3 file can also be constructed at higher or lower bit rates, with higher or lower resulting quality.

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