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How Shawn Fanning and Napster Almost Defeated the Music Industry

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How Shawn Fanning and Napster Almost Defeated the Music Industry

How Shawn Fanning and Napster almost defeated the music industry.

In the late 1990s, the greedy, wealthy music industry received a blow they never saw coming. As long as albums had been commercially produced, the industry had been free to charge as much as they wanted for their product, and believe me they had. Albums, eight track cartridges, cassettes, and compact discs have been overpriced for a long, long time, with the only alternative being listening to the radio in hopes that your favorite song would someday get airplay. This practice had been lining the pockets of the major distributing companies (Universal Music, Sony BMG, EMI, Warner Music, etc.) since their inceptions. It all changed in 1999 when a college student at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts fired the shot that brought the music industry to its knees.

Shawn Fanning was a born on November 22, 1980, in Brockton, Massachusetts.

In the late 1990s, he was a freshman Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts and was not doing well academically. His grades were slipping and classes were not that interesting to him. Upon hearing grumblings from friends and classmates that they had problems finding the music they wanted to download, Fanning decided to spend his time trying to help. “Fanning decided to write a program to help. He obsessed about the project. He wrote code day and night until he had a system that would allow people to tap into each other’s hard drivers for MP3 downloads. (Vivian, 101)” The code Fanning worked on would later become the program Napster. “He uploaded the original beta version to, where it quickly became one of the hottest downloads on the site. (How Stuff Works par 4)

Initially, Napster was especially popular on college campuses across the country. There were several reasons for this, including the fact that younger generations are always drawn to music, and they usually have very little money with which to spend money buying compact discs. Another factor is that at the time, college campuses across the United States had been spending great amounts of money making high speed internet and computers accessible to their students. After putting all those pieces together, you come to the realization that college students across the country were the driving force behind the rise of Napster.

Napster had several key components that helped gain superstardom. Shawn Fanning was smart enough to incorporate three ingredients into his product after listening to the gripes of his friends. One of those features was a search engine that allowed people to find MP3 files only. Another attribute was file sharing. With file sharing, users had the ability to trade their music files directly, without have to use servers to store them on. Also included was Internet Relay chat (IRC), which allowed users to chat with each other while online. These features helped Napster become the king of music download sites in a very short amount of time, and it stayed there for quite some time.

In 2000, record stores and music retailers found themselves in a horrible spot. They were no longer moving music as they once had. One example, was when Best Buy had to shut down its Sam Goody’s stores. Other brand name retailers were following suit, and losing serious business along the way. “For the first time in its history, the music industry was not in control of new technology-unlike the earlier adjustments, when companies exploited developments to goose sales, like switches to high-fidelity and stereo and the introduction of eight-tracks, cassettes and CDs (Vivian, 114).” At this stage, Napster was the talk of the computer and music industry, and Shawn Fanning was labeled a genius by many.

In 2000, the beginning of the end came for Napster. The music industry fired back with a lawsuit. “In 2000, A&M records and several other recording companies sued Napster for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMC Act). The music industry made the following claims against Napster: (1) That its users were directly infringing the plaintiff's copyright; (2) That Napster was liable for contributory infringement of the plaintiff's copyright; and (3) That Napster was liable for vicarious infringement of the plaintiff's copyright. The court found Napster guilty on all three claims (Napster par 6).” Among those musicians involved different lawsuits with Napster were heavy metal band Metallica, rap artist Dr. Dre and music superstar Madonna.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were bands like the English band Radiohead. “Proof may have come in July 2000 when tracks from English rock band Radiohead's album Kid A found their way to Napster

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