Online Music Sharing: From Napster To iTunes

We’ve come along way in the online world of music. So much has changed in the ways we obtain music online, the technologies used to deliver this new music and the ever changing business models and politics behind it all.

napster Back in 1999 a small file sharing application was born known as Napster. It was created by a bright student at Harvard University Shawn Fanning. The Napster application was a pioneer in online music sharing. It enabled anyone with a computer, a 56k modem and a CD burner to download music (for free) from other’s sharing that music on the internet and burn it to a CD to play that album in your car stereo or even your Discman!

Napster was well known for being a great source of finding unreleased bootleg tracks or copies of songs performed live that nobody else seemed to sell and it was it’s popularity that would eventually cause its downfall.

In 2000, shortly after its reign as supreme app of the dot com boom the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster over copyright infringement and providing a means to facilitate music piracy.

"We love the idea of using technology to build artist communities, but that’s not what Napster is all about,”…”Napster is about facilitating piracy, and trying to build a business on the backs of artists and copyright owners." Cary Sherman – Senior VP at RIAA (1999)

Napster fell off the map shortly after this after scrapping their P2P business, but a few years later they created a new business based around the sales of music instead of just giving it away (although they still do give some music away for free, mainly independent artists who just want their voice heard).

There have been many similar p2p file sharing applications come out since the days of Napster, just to name a few:

  • Morpheus
  • WinMX
  • Bearshare

Later after this we saw stuff like Limewire and Kazaa hit the internet and the strange thing is, these days both companies still exist but Limewire has some how managed to dodge all the bullets from RIAA and other authorities to dodge lawsuits and the like from their p2p application.

Kazaa was just like Limewire but they lost a number of lawsuits and have now become a similar business to Napster.

So here we are, about 2003-2004. iTunes had already been available for a year or two as music software for the popular music player iPod.

Apple had created this giant monster of a music player, but at the time the only way people could get their music onto their players legally was itunesto ‘rip’ their music CD’s they already owned to their iTunes libraries to play them on their iPods. Seeing that other businesses by that time had started online music stores to download music legally Apple figured they should get into that market to provide a place where people could download music legally (for a price) for their own iPod devices. After all, what’s the point of making a music player and not proving a good way to get music onto the thing?

Around late 2003 early 2004 Apple launches its iTunes music store in the US, then later in 04 launches the store to the EU. A year later, Australia and others got their own music stores. So now Apple had a legitimate legal way for their iPod users to get music onto their iPods, and Apple being Apple with the great ideas and flawless business models capitalized on the shortcomings of other online stores to provide the best online marketplace for music there is.

If you would like to learn more about the history of online music sharing, Napster, iTunes, etc here are some great links:

And the rest as they say, is history.

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