This article is about the defunct peer-to-peer service. For the later service that operated as Napster, see Napster (pay service).
Developer(s) Shawn Fanning
Sean Parker
John Fanning
Initial release June 1, 1999 (1999-06-01)
Stable release
September 3, 2002 (2002-09-03)
Development status Merged with Rhapsody
Operating system Cross-platform
Available in Multilingual
Type Media player

Napster was the name given to two music-focused online services. It was founded as a pioneering peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing Internet service that emphasized sharing digital audio files, typically songs, encoded in MP3 format. The company ran into legal difficulties over copyright infringement, ceased operations and was eventually acquired by Roxio. In its second incarnation Napster became an online music store until it was acquired by Rhapsody from Best Buy[1] on December 1, 2011.

Later companies and projects successfully followed its P2P file sharing example such as Gnutella, Freenet, Kazaa, Bearshare, and many others. Some services, like LimeWire, Scour, Grokster, Madster, and eDonkey2000, were brought down or changed due to copyright issues.


Napster was founded by Shawn Fanning, John Fanning, and Sean Parker.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] Initially, Napster was envisioned as an independent peer-to-peer file sharing service by Shawn Fanning. The service operated between June 1999 and July 2001.[10] Its technology allowed people to easily share their MP3 files with other participants.[11] Although the original service was shut down by court order, the Napster brand survived after the company's assets were liquidated and purchased by other companies through bankruptcy proceedings.[12]


Although there were already networks that facilitated the distribution of files across the Internet, such as IRC, Hotline, and Usenet, Napster specialized in MP3 files of music and a user-friendly interface. At its peak the Napster service had about 80 million registered users.[13] Napster made it relatively easy for music enthusiasts to download copies of songs that were otherwise difficult to obtain, such as older songs, unreleased recordings, and songs from concert bootleg recordings. Users did not have to be computer programmers to download songs. Some users felt justified in downloading digital copies of recordings they had already purchased in other formats, such as LP and cassette tape, before the compact disc emerged as the dominant format for music recordings.

Many other users enjoyed trading and downloading music for free. High-speed networks in college dormitories became overloaded, with as much as 61% of external network traffic consisting of MP3 file transfers.[14] Many colleges blocked its use for this reason,[15] even before concerns about liability for facilitating copyright violations on campus. The ease of downloading individual songs facilitated by Napster and later services is often credited with ushering in the end of the Album Era in popular music, which focused on the release of albums of songs by bands and artists.

Macintosh version

Napster running on Mac OS 9 (using Kaleidoscope theme utility) in March 2001.

The service and software program began as Windows-only. However, in 2000, Black Hole Media wrote a Macintosh client called Macster. Macster was later bought by Napster and designated the official Mac Napster client ("Napster for the Mac"), at which point the Macster name was discontinued.[16] Even before the acquisition of Macster, the Macintosh community had a variety of independently-developed Napster clients. The most notable was the open source client called MacStar, released by Squirrel Software in early 2000 and Rapster, released by Overcaster Family in Brazil.[17] The release of MacStar's source code paved the way for third-party Napster clients across all computing platforms, giving users advertisement-free music distribution options.

Legal challenges

Heavy metal band Metallica discovered a demo of their song "I Disappear" had been circulating across the network before it was released. This led to it being played on several radio stations across the United States and alerted Metallica that their entire back catalogue of studio material was also available. On March 13, 2000, they filed a lawsuit against Napster. A month later, rapper and producer Dr. Dre, who shared a litigator and legal firm with Metallica, filed a similar lawsuit after Napster refused his written request to remove his works from its service. Separately, Metallica and Dr. Dre later delivered to Napster thousands of usernames of people whom they believed were pirating their songs. In March 2001, Napster settled both suits, after being shut down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a separate lawsuit from several major record labels (see below).[18] In 2000, Madonna's single "Music" was leaked out onto the web and Napster prior to its commercial release, causing widespread media coverage.[19] Verified Napster use peaked with 26.4 million users worldwide in February 2001.[20]

In 2000, the American musical recording company A&M Records along with several other recording companies, through the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), sued Napster (A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc.) on grounds of contributory and vicarious copyright infringement under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).[21] Napster was faced with the following allegations from the music industry:

  1. That its users were directly violating the plaintiffs' copyrights.
  2. That Napster was responsible for contributory infringement of the plaintiffs' copyrights.
  3. That Napster was responsible for vicarious infringement of the plaintiffs' copyrights.

Napster lost the case in the District Court but then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Although it was clear that Napster could have commercially significant non-infringing uses, the Ninth Circuit upheld the District Court's decision. Immediately after, the District Court commanded Napster to keep track of the activities of its network and to restrict access to infringing material when informed of that material's location. Napster wasn't able to comply and thus had to close down its service in July 2001. In 2002, Napster announced that it was bankrupt and sold its assets to a third party.[22]

Promotional power

Napster peaked in February 2001.

Along with the accusations that Napster was hurting the sales of the record industry, there were those who felt just the opposite, that file trading on Napster stimulated, rather than hurt, sales. Some evidence may have come in July 2000 when tracks from English rock band Radiohead's album Kid A found their way to Napster only three months before the album's release. Unlike Madonna, Dr. Dre or Metallica, Radiohead had never hit the top 20 in the US. Furthermore, Kid A was an album without any singles released, and received relatively little radio airplay. By the time of the album's release, the album was estimated to have been downloaded for free by millions of people worldwide, and in October 2000 Kid A captured the number one spot on the Billboard 200 sales chart in its debut week. According to Richard Menta of MP3 Newswire,[23] the effect of Napster in this instance was isolated from other elements that could be credited for driving sales, and the album's unexpected success suggested that Napster was a good promotional tool for music. One of the most successful bands to owe its success to Napster was the band Dispatch. As an independent band, it had no formal promotion or radio play, yet it was able to tour in cities where it had never played and to sell out concerts, thanks to the spread of its music on Napster. In July 2007, the band became the first independent band to headline New York City's Madison Square Garden, selling the venue out for three consecutive nights. The band members were avid supporters of Napster, promoting it at their shows, playing a Napster show around the time of the Congressional hearings, and attending the hearings themselves. Shawn Fanning, one founder of Napster, is a known Dispatch fan.

Since 2000, many musical artists, particularly those not signed to major labels and without access to traditional mass media outlets such as radio and television, have said that Napster and successive Internet file-sharing networks have helped get their music heard, spread word of mouth, and may have improved their sales in the long term. One such musician to publicly defend Napster as a promotional tool for independent artists was Dj xealot, who became directly involved in the 2000 A&M Records Lawsuit.[24] Chuck D from Public Enemy also came out and publicly supported Napster.[25]


Napster's facilitation of transfer of copyrighted material raised the ire of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which almost immediately—on December 7, 1999—filed a lawsuit against the popular service.[26][27] The service would only get bigger as the trial, meant to shut down Napster, also gave it a great deal of publicity. Soon millions of users, many of whom were college students, flocked to it. After a failed appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, an injunction was issued on March 5, 2001 ordering Napster to prevent the trading of copyrighted music on its network.[28]

Lawrence Lessig[29] claimed, however, that this decision made little sense from the perspective of copyright protection: "When Napster told the district court that it had developed a technology to block the transfer of 99.4 percent of identified infringing material, the district court told counsel for Napster 99.4 percent was not good enough. Napster had to push the infringements 'down to zero.' If 99.4 percent is not good enough," Lessig concluded, "then this is a war on file-sharing technologies, not a war on copyright infringement."


In July 2001, Napster shut down its entire network in order to comply with the injunction. On September 24, 2001, the case was partially settled. Napster agreed to pay music creators and copyright owners a $26 million settlement for past, unauthorized uses of music, and as an advance against future licensing royalties of $10 million. In order to pay those fees, Napster attempted to convert its free service into a subscription system. Thus traffic to Napster was reduced. A prototype solution was tested in the spring of 2002: the Napster 3.0 Alpha, using the ".nap" secure file format from PlayMedia Systems[30] and audio fingerprinting technology licensed from Relatable. Napster 3.0 was, according to many former Napster employees, ready to deploy, but it had significant trouble obtaining licenses to distribute major-label music. On May 17, 2002, Napster announced that its assets would be acquired by German media firm Bertelsmann for $85 million with the goal of transforming Napster into an online music subscription service. The two companies had been collaborating since the summer of 2000[31] where Bertelsmann became the first major label to drop its copyright lawsuit against Napster.[32] Pursuant to the terms of the acquisition agreement, on June 3 Napster filed for Chapter 11 protection under United States bankruptcy laws. On September 3, 2002, an American bankruptcy judge blocked the sale to Bertelsmann and forced Napster to liquidate its assets.[33]


Napster's brand and logos were acquired at bankruptcy auction by Roxio which used them to re-brand the Pressplay music service as Napster 2.0. In September 2008, Napster was purchased by US electronics retailer Best Buy for US $121 million.[34] On December 1, 2011, pursuant to a deal with Best Buy, Napster merged with Rhapsody. Best Buy will receive a minority stake in Rhapsody.[35] On July 14, 2016, Rhapsody phased out the Rhapsody brand in favor of Napster and has since branded its service internationally as Napster.[36]


There have been several books that document the experiences of people working at Napster, including Joseph Menn's Napster biography, All the Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning's Napster,[37] John Alderman's "Sonic Boom: Napster, MP3, and the New Pioneers of Music,"[38] and Steve Knopper's "Appetite for Self Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age."[39] The 2010 film The Social Network features Napster co-founder Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake) in the rise of the popular website Facebook.[40] The 2013 film Downloaded is a documentary about sharing media on the Internet and includes the history of Napster.

See also


  1. Sisario, Ben (2011-10-03). "Rhapsody to Acquire Napster in Deal With Best Buy -". United States: Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  2. Pollack, Neal. Spotify Is the Coolest Music Service You Can't Use. Wired. December 27, 2010.
  3. Schonfeld, Erick. Shawn Fanning And Sean Parker Talk About Airtime And "Smashing People Together". TechCrunch. October 6, 2011.
  4. Rosen, Ellen. Student's Start-Up Draws Attention and $13 Million. The New York Times. May 26, 2005.
  5. Bradshaw, Tim. Spotify-MOG battle heats up. Financial Times. February 28, 2010.
  6. Emerson, Ramona. Sean Parker At Web 2.0 Summit Defends 'Creepy' Facebook. The Huffington Post. October 18, 2011.
  7. Simon, Dan. Internet pioneer Sean Parker: 'I'm blazing a new path'. CNN. September 27, 2011.
  8. Menn, Joseph (2003). All the Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning’s Napster. Crown Business. ISBN 0-609-61093-7.
  9. Kirkpatrick, David (October 2010). "With a Little Help From His Friends". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  10. Napster's High and Low Notes – Businessweek – August 14, 2000
    • Giesler, Markus (2006). "Consumer Gift Systems". Journal of Consumer Research. 33 (2): 283–290. doi:10.1086/506309.
  11. Evangelista, Benny (September 4, 2002). "Napster runs out of lives – judge rules against sale". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  12. Gowan, Michael (2002-05-18). "Requiem for Napster". Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  13. Fusco, Patricia (March 13, 2000). "The Napster Nightmare". ISP-Planet. Archived from the original on 2011-10-19.
  14. Anderson, Kevin (September 26, 2000). "Napster expelled by universities". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2007-10-21.
  15. "Official Napster Client For Mac OS, OS X -- The Mac Observer".
  16. Moore, Charles W. "Eight MP3 Players For The Macintosh". Applelinks. Retrieved April 26, 2014.
  17. Giesler, Markus (2008). "Conflict and Compromise: Drama in Marketplace Evolution". Journal of Consumer Research. 34 (6): 739–753. doi:10.1086/522098.
  18. Borland, John (June 1, 2000). "Unreleased Madonna Single Slips On To Net". CNET Archived from the original on June 28, 2012.
  19. "GLOBAL NAPSTER USAGE PLUMMETS, BUT NEW FILE-SHARING ALTERNATIVES GAINING GROUND, REPORTS JUPITER MEDIA METRIX" (Press release). comScore. 2001-07-20. Archived from the original on 2008-04-13. Retrieved April 26, 2014.
  20. 17 U.S.C. A&M Records. Inc. v. Napster. Inc. 114 F. Supp. 2d 896 (N. D. Cal. 2000).
  21. .A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001). For a summary and analysis, see Guy Douglas, Copyright and Peer-To-Peer Music File Sharing: The Napster Case and the Argument Against Legislative Reform
  22. Menta, Richard (October 28, 2000). "Did Napster Take Radiohead's New Album to Number 1?". MP3 Newswire.
  23. "Case Nos. C 99-5183 and C 00-0074 MHP (ADR)" (PDF). Retrieved February 12, 2009.
  24. "Rapper Chuck D throws weight behind Napster". Cnet News. May 1, 2000.
  25. A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 114 F. Supp. 2d 896 (N.D. Cal. 2000), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001)
  26. Menta, Richard (December 9, 1999). "RIAA Sues Music Startup Napster for $20 Billion". MP3 Newswire.
  27. 2001 US Dist. LEXIS 2186 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 5, 2001), aff’d, 284 F. 3d 1091 (9th Cir. 2002).
  28. Lessig, Lawrence (2004). Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity. Penguin. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-0-14-303465-0.
  29. "Napster to ditch MP3 for proprietary format".
  30. "Bertelsmann to buy Napster for a song". CNET. Retrieved 2016-02-29.
  31. Teather, David; correspondent, media business (2000-11-01). "Napster wins new friend". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-02-29.
  32. Evangelista, Benny (September 4, 2002). "Napster runs out of lives – judge rules against sale". San Francisco Chronicle.
  33. Skillings (September 15, 2008). "Best Buy nabs Napster for $121 million". CNET. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  34. "Today is Napster's last day of existence". CNN. November 30, 2011.
  35. "We Are Napster". Napster Team. July 14, 2016.
  36. "All the Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning's Napster".
  37. John Alderman (August 8, 2001). Sonic boom: Napster, MP3, and the new pioneers of music. Perseus Pub. ISBN 978-0-7382-0405-5. Retrieved January 29, 2011.
  38. Napster wounds the giant : Music. The Rocky Mountain News (January 5, 2009). Retrieved on January 29, 2011.
  39. Kirkpatrick, David. With a Little Help From His Friends. Vanity Fair. October 2010.

Further reading

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