On July 11, 2001, the popular, controversial, and revolutionary file sharing website Napster shut down their service in compliance with an injunction from an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Just three years after its conception, Napster was forced to close its doors.
Napster’s initial, original reign of terror lasted from 1999 to 2001, and at its peak had over 80 million registered users (for reference, Spotify currently has 60 million). But before streaming services or iTunes stores, Napster provided something that was previously unfathomable and unheard of: an open season on all music. The program employed a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing service that brought life to the old adage, “What’s yours is mine.” Users shared their MP3 collections with others, and in return they could search through the database that was complied from all the other Napster users’ libraries. There was a good chance you could now get your hands on any song you wanted, without leaving your home. For free. And if you had a CD burner? Game over.
The RIAA recognized the threat, and they immediately took action. But even though the site was shut down along with the many copycat sites that followed, there was nothing the RIAA could do to stop the revolution that Napster had started. Like Leonardo DiCaprio says in Inception: “What is the most resilient parasite? An idea. Resilient…highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” Napster gave people ideas.
Napster showed the world that a song could be a digital file that takes up virtually no space. They presented the idea that a song, something that was once only material, could be sent around electronically as easily as an email or a picture. They introduced accessibility and search functions that opened the floodgates for people to realize the internet’s capabilities. Napster changed the music industry forever.
In 2000, total album sales reached 785 million. The iPod was released in October of 2001, three months after the end of Napster. By 2002 albums sales were down to 681 million. Last year the total number of albums sold was 257 million. The world was going digital and Napster was the first program to show the potential and peril that came with society’s newfound ability to share music on the internet.
So sitting here now, thinking about the wild ride that Napster took, it made me think about all the voices involved that went unheard. All the Napster reactions left for us today is in the form of articles or case studies. But what about the common users?
Unfortunately, in the time of Napster, the greatest reaction resource of all time, Twitter, had yet to be created, depriving the world of vicious Strong Takes from random people who may or may not know anything about the subject being discussed. So here’s a glance at a Twitter timeline from 2001, during the waning days of Napster.