NPR logo

Napster: The File-Sharing Service That Started It All?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Napster: The File-Sharing Service That Started It All?

Napster: The File-Sharing Service That Started It All?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

Today, we take a look back at the decade that's coming to a close. The aughts, as some are calling these past ten years, saw the music industry turned on its head.

The revolution actually began in 1999, with a little project by college student Shawn Fanning. He called it Napster. By 2000, the online file-sharing service was being sued by record labels and musicians. The next year, it was gone. But as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, its legacy lingers on.

LAURA SYDELL: In the early days of the Internet, the only way to share a song was to send an email attachment. Napster made it possible to access millions of computers.

Mr. ERIC GARLAND (Chief executive officer, Big Champagne): Now suddenly with a search engine, anybody could access any piece of content in the world at the click of a mouse.

SYDELL: That's Eric Garland, the CEO of Big Champagne, a company that's been tracking online music habits for the past decade. Although the big recording labels shut down Napster in 2001, it was a Pyrrhic victory.

Mr. GARLAND: Napster wasn't the problem. Napster was just one symptom.

SYDELL: Online file-sharing services turned out to be hydras. Shut one down, and two more grow up to take its place. The music industry started a war against what it called piracy that included suing music fans and enlisting celebrities like Kid Rock to make public service announcements.

(Soundbite of public service announcement)

Mr. KID ROCK: It's true, it's just a song. You know, you take the song. You download it. Big deal, right? Listen to this. Let's level the playing field. Steal everything. I mean, if you need a new mp3 player or computer, go in there, get a new laptop.

SYDELL: But millions of fans were numb to the pleas or sarcasm. Talk to a random sampling, and they'll give you a long list of reasons they feel justified in downloading music without paying for it. Jennifer Louis, a music teacher, says after years of paying $15 to $20 for CDs with only one song she liked, she felt ripped off.

Ms. JENNIFER LOUIS (Music teacher): When you overcharge your customers for your music that they love, you're treating them like their enemy, almost.

SYDELL: Other fans, like Don O'Neil, a retired furniture maker, say they heard stories about artists who never saw any money from CD sales anyway.

Mr. DON O'NEIL (Retired furniture maker): Those artists get charged back for every single thing the record label can think of to charge them back for. They charge them back for the janitor who swept up the studio after they finished recording their CD.

SYDELL: True or not, it didn't matter. These were the rationalizations that floated around the Internet along with access to an unprecedented variety of music. For fans like 35-year-old student Nate Mannan, this is a golden age.

Mr. NATE MANNAN (Student): I know some artists that might disagree with that. But, yeah, I think for the music fan who's able to basically sample all the flavors out there, it's unprecedented.

SYDELL: But something may be changing. According to Big Champagne's Eric Garland, for the first time in a decade, unauthorized file-sharing has stopped growing. Garland thinks it's because there are more legal options. Music teacher Jennifer Louis says it's just a lot easier to download legally.

Ms. LOUIS: The quality, when you download from iTunes � it's just a lot better.

SYDELL: Unfortunately, Eric Garland doesn't think iTunes or streaming services like Pandora will save the music industry. Sales of individual tracks or monthly subscriptions don't generate as much profit for the labels as CD sales.

Mr. GARLAND: Now, the legitimate marketplace is, in many ways, the culprit. It's responsible for the decline of the fortunes of the industry.

SYDELL: Garland says a decade on, industry executives may be longing for the days of Napster � when they could blame piracy for all of their problems.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: Our coverage of this past decade in music is an ongoing feature on our music site at

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.