The Biggest Scandal Since Napster
Long before the green-counterpart to the lemon on a wire was even conceived, there was a music sharing and downloading service called Napster. Gaining worldwide popularity during the late 1990s, Napster was the first really big and widely used peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing services. During its peak, somewhere between 1999 and 2001, Napster had more than 80 million users. And, rather unfortunately, a good majority of the company's 80 million users used the service for illegally pirating music, with no money being paid out in royalty to the artists who created it. Many users were college students, resulting in banning use of the service across many campuses.
Naturally, there were many music artists who were upset about not making money off of people pirating their music as opposed to purchasing it legitimately. However, the first really well-known band to make a stand against internet piracy was Metallica. The band issued a written request to the executives at Napster, requesting that their songs be taken off of the service. The request was ignored, and people continued to illegally download away. The band then took much more drastic and aggressive actions, and started to compile lists of particular Napster usernames who were sharing MP3 files of their songs. These usernames were handed over to US courts. And then, when Metallica attempted to bring a lawsuit against Napster, they also started to go after many of the individuals whom they saw had spread their MP3 files. While this decision to pursue individual people in the courtroom was not popular, it was relatively successful. Napster was shut down, and beginning in mid 2001, the world of illegally downloading music became scattered... at least for a little while.
The Rise and Eventual Fall of Limewire
Immediately after Napster went down in the courtroom, internet pirates began searching for a new alternative to getting music for free. And while there were plenty of such alternatives out there, it took a while for one popular service to really be the standout choice. However, it seemed that whatever would eventually take up Napster's old throne would be something with the Gnutella peer to peer file sharing network, which had been growing in popularity all this time, since its inception in 2000. One of the first big clients to launch and allow searching and downloading through the Gnutella network was Limewire, in late 2001. And while it was popular among those who used it, that number was still pretty small and insignificant at first. It would take a while for the rest of the world to catch on... about half a decade in fact.
Finally, around the mid-2000s, Limewire started to become the clear dominant king of internet piracy. Some of the popular features that set it apart from its competitors were its incredibly easy-to-use interface (no need to be good with computers and technology- everyone can be a pirate!) as well as its social features, like an instant messenger and the ability to have a buddy list. In addition, the code was written in Java, making it cross-platform. It was possible to make Metallica hate you whether you had a Windows, Mac, or other operating system. Throughout 2006 and 2007, the popularity of the program continued to grow. There were even more people using Limewire than iTunes. In fact, the client was installed on more than 1/3 of all computers in the world, approximately 35%. Even more amazing, it was reported that 3.56% of the world's population used Limewire by late 2007 and early 2008.
If 3.56% doesn't seem like a big amount to you, think again. Remember how Napster 80 million users? Well, 3.56% of the world's population is almost 250 million users. This wasn't an internet piracy case as big as Napster- it was approximately 3 times worse!
With so many users, it appeared obvious that Limewire could not last forever. Clearly, there were simply too many people aware of the client and its abilities to obtain digital music for free. It seemed as of everybody used it to download songs illegally, and if you didn't use it, then you definitely knew somebody who did. Slowly, rumors began to circulate about the United States government beginning to take action. There was pressure put on internet service providers. Some people had reports of letters being sent to their home, ordering them to remove all copyrighted material on their personal computer. A court case was brewing, and finally, on October 26, 2010, it was ruled that the client had to disable anything that had to do with "searching, downloading, uploading, file trading and/or file distribution functionality".
Interestingly enough, all of the actions taken against Limewire did not affect the files being spread illegally. The Gnutella network remained largely untouched. In fact, an off-shoot of the Limewire client with similar functions and a familiar interface, Frostwire, started to gain a lot of popularity and users after Limewire's shutdown. However, it never reached the same heights of its predecessor. Many users were unfamiliar with the distinction between Limewire and the files hosted/shared throughout the Gnutella network. There was a widespread misconception across the internet that the pirated songs were inaccessible, when in reality, all that was needed was a similar client to browse the network. And so, traffic across Gnutella has dwindled a bit since Limewire's shutdown, with BitTorrent becoming the preferred method of mass P2P file sharing.
Ending the MP3 Era
What may be the most significant part of the end of Limewire is what's happened to the digital music scene in the following years. Since it has ended, many internet radio services like Pandora, Last.fm, and Spotify have grown rapidly. These services are completely legal, because the user is not downloading a personal MP3 file, they are simply streaming it, just like you would hear a song on the radio in your car.
There have been signs that streaming and internet radio in forms like this are the future. After all, most people don't want to pirate music because they don't like the artist, they just want to listen to music without shelling out money. And with these services (Spotify in particular) now making that an easy alternative possibility, we may be witnessing the end of the MP3 era of digital music, which would make Limewire the last major music scandal associated with internet piracy. However, if the past decade is any indicator, the next big thing to cause a whole new array of problems to pop up could be just around the corner.