Napster is an online music service which was originally a file sharing service created by Shawn Fanning. Napster was the first widely-used peer-to-peer (or P2P) music sharing service, and it made a major impact on how people, especially university students, used the Internet. Its technology allowed music fans to easily share MP3 format song files with each other, thus leading to the music industry’s accusations of massive copyright violations. Although the original service was shut down by court order, it paved the way for decentralized P2P file-sharing programs such as Kazaa, Limewire, and BearShare, which have been much harder to control. Napster continues to live on with pay services today. The popularity and repercussions of the first Napster have made it a legendary icon in the computer and entertainment fields.


Napster’s facilitation of illegal activity raised the ire of several major recording companies, who almost immediately — in December 1999 — filed a lawsuit against the popular service. 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 them 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. 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, as well as an advance against future licensing royalties of $10 million. In order to pay those fees, Napster attempted to convert their free service to a subscription system. A prototype solution was tested in the spring of 2002: the Napster 3.0 Alpha, using 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 $8 million. Pursuant to terms of that 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 according to Chapter 7 of the U.S. bankruptcy laws. Most of the Napster staff were laid off, and the website changed to display “Napster was here”.

References in popular culture

In the 2003 remake of The Italian Job, a flashback depicts Shawn Fanning (playing himself) stealing the program from a computer expert played by Seth Green while the latter is napping, providing a humorous folk etymology for the name (nap for napping and ster for stealing).

The suffix “-ster” has become a popular component of the brand names of many Internet products, suggesting a peer-to-peer model, such as Grokster, Aimster (later Madster), and Blubster. This has also been extended to Friendster, a site which vaguely recalls Napster’s community-building features.

An episode of animated television series Futurama, I Dated a Robot, centres on the illegal distribution of robotic celebrity clones over the Internet. The organisation responsible for this was thought to be named “Nappster,” a reference to Napster. It was later revealed, however, that the full name was “Kidnappster” with a piece of tapestry covering “Kid” from the logo.

John Titor, a purported time traveller from the year 2036, says that Napster is still distributing music in his time.

In the South Park episode Christian Rock Hard, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny illegally download music from Napster for inspiration for their band ‘Moop.’ They are then caught by police and shown the horrors music pirating does to musicians. After seeing this, they start a strike and famous musicians/bands join them, among them are Rancid, Master P, Ozzy Osbourne, Meat Loaf (all four also playing in Chef Aid), Blink-182, Metallica, Britney Spears, Missy Elliot, Alanis Morissette and The Lords of the Underworld (minus Timmy).