Napster v. Metallica, 10 Years Later

A hat tip to Anthony De Rosa for reminding me that today is the anniversary of one of the most infamous moments in the Bubble 1.0 era: Metallica bringing suit against Napster for file trading of its music on the P2P music sharing network.

As an April 2000 Wired article told of the news:

Heavy metal band Metallica has always been synonymous with music that is played fast and loud. After filing a lawsuit Thursday, the band might become more famous as the first group to strike a chord against music piracy on the Net.

Metallica filed a lawsuit against Napster in the US District Court, Central District of California, alleging that the company encourages piracy by enabling and allowing its users to trade copyrighted songs through its servers.

The suit also names the University of Southern California, Yale University, and Indiana University, institutions which, ironically, have attempted to deal with the problems associated with students’ use of Napster on campus networks.

The RIAA has sent cease-and-desist letters to school administrators advising them of the copyright violations involved, but until now none of the universities have been sued.

The suit alleges that Napster has violated three different areas of the law: copyright infringements, unlawful use of digital audio interface device, and the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Anthony linked to the story to point out the irony: Metallica is still raking in gobs of money, and Napster is owned by a major electronics commercial entity. 10 years later, the file sharing world still very much exists, but not through the way Napster once built it upon.

The topic of Napster has always been one of my favorites to cover. The Metallica story was the first technology story I ever covered while writing in my high school’s paper, and I think the service truly has an important part in the digital culture of today. The technology of trading music, and eventually files, became mainstreamed through Napster, thanks in part to a storm of activity that coincided with the beginnings of High Speed Access in homes as well as other supporting technologies such as CD-R and flash memory developing beyond Zip Drives.

More than anything, Napster taught the average user that they could share things online. Files were just the beginning, but an important mindset shift that made the idea of Web 2.0 possible throughout the 2000s. As I wrote a few years ago:

What did MP3s do? Within the gray-lines of the DMCA, we took massive files of music that were seemingly tethered down, and made them digestible quantities of only a couple of megs (true geek moment here: at the average 128 kbps, the 3 minutes song clocks in pretty close to the 4 mb range. In wav or cd formats, that’s about 45 megs), and started figuring out we could pass them back and forth.

When Peer-2-Peer sharing went to the masses, it changed the internet. Napster did that. It broke down the geek barrier of entry. The normal internet consumer realized they could become each others content providers. That was the tipping point.

The first ever social media was music. It went from record store conversations to consumable bits that anyone could pass around their own channels.

Blogs are just technology. But until we realized that we could provide each other with valid content, the vehicle wouldn’t be necessary.

As news gets closer to paid models online and goes the way of music, someone will be the Metallica-like example that we cite for years to come. But I truly believe that Mr. Fanning’s program was just a powerful a force in the open era of content than anything else out there – because it made it not only ok, but encouraged us, to share.


One Comment on “Napster v. Metallica, 10 Years Later”

  1. […] by Dave Levy on April 28, 2010 I am totally having a nostalgic 1.0-Internet month. First there was another Napster post added to the catalog, there was a lot of fun with Geocities yesterday (more on that later) and now […]

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