Napster was initially created between 1998 and 1999 by a 19-year-old called Shawn Fanning while he attended Boston's Northeastern University. He wrote the program initially as a way of solving a problem for a friend who wanted to find music downloads more easily online. The name 'Napster' came from Fanning's nickname.
The system was known as peer-to-peer since it enabled music tracks stored on other Internet user's hard disks in MP3 format to be searched and shared with other Internet users. Strictly speaking, the service was not a pure P2P since central services indexed the tracks available and their locations in a similar way to which instant messaging (IM) works.
The capability to try a range of tracks proved irresistible and Napster use peaked with 26.4 million users worldwide in February 2001.
It was not long before several major recording companies backed by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) launched a lawsuit. Of course, such an action also gave Napster tremendous PR and more users trialled the service. Some individual bands also responded with lawsuits. Rock band Metallica found that a demo of their song 'I disappear' began circulating on the Napster network and was eventually played on the radio. Other well-known artists who vented their ire on Napster included Madonna and Eminem by posting false 'cuckoo egg' files instead of music; Madonna asked the downloader: 'What the fuck do you think you're doing?'! However, not all artists felt the service was negative for them. UK band Radiohead pre-released some tracks of their album Kid A on to Napster and subsequently became Number 1 in the US despite failing to achieve this previously.
Eventually as a result of legal action an injunction was issued on 5 March 2001 ordering Napster to cease trading of copyrighted material. Napster complied with this injunction, but tried to make a deal with the record companies to pay past copyright fees and to turn the service into a legal subscription service.
In the following year, a deal was agreed with German media company Bertelsmann AG to purchase Napster's assets for $8 million as part of an agreement when Napster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States. This sale was blocked and the web site closed. Eventually, the Napster brand was purchased by Roxio, Inc which used the brand to rebrand their PressPlay service.
Since this time, other P2P services such as Gnutella, Grokster and Kazaa have prospered which have been more difficult for the copyright owners to pursue in court;
however, many individuals have now been sued in the US and Europe and the associations of these services with spyware and adware has damaged them, which has reduced the popularity of these services.
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