Napster: The Internet Law Controversy

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Brett M. Steinberg.
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Last updated: November 30, 2000

Napster is Born

The world's leading file sharing community known as Napster was founded in May of 1999. Shawn Fanning, the nineteen-year-old founder of Napster developed the original service in January 1999 as a freshman at Northeastern University. During his spare time, Fanning experimented with computer software, which led to the development of Napster. The Napster idea evolved when Fanning wrote a small piece of software that allowed users to share and download music files. His friends were entertained by the idea of being able to share files and suggested that he bring his idea to the next level. At this point, Fanning decided to take a short break from school and concentrate on his new idea. During its first trial run, the program received 300,000 hits in one week. Fanning realized the potential of his idea and decided to pursue its development full-time.

The concept behind Napster is to allow users to locate and share media files from one convenient location. It was designed to provide media fans with a forum to communicate their interests through chat rooms, instant messaging, and to find the latest list of user bookmarks. The idea was to create a music community for online users. Napster is a communications system that allows musicians and music fans to locate music groups and bands in the MP3 format. With few recent exceptions, Napster does not and cannot control the content that is available on Napster. Nothing is stored on Napster's server, because federal law does not allow it. Every user is responsible for following both federal and state laws that apply to copyright laws. In general, Napster is not responsible their users, they are just providing the service. Each user is accountable for his or her own actions.

Napster's has grown exponentially in its early age. According to Media Metrix, Napster is the fastest growing Internet Company ever. Napster currently has over 32 million registered users and around 900,000 simultaneous users. Napster's records show that they are growing weekly at an estemated rate of one million users. Although the age range for users is wide, Napster's primary users are college students. Access to the Internet has become even easier for college students recently, making Napster a popular site. Ethernet is not only being installed in college dormitories anymore; residences have added the feature as a result of the positive feedback it has received. The fact that students can leave their computer on all night and download songs and movies has expanded Napsters usage rate. Students can access their favorite music groups or any other music that interests them. Napster offers a large number of services, which cater to a variety of age groups. Apartment complexes and dorms are using Ethernet as a selling tactic for students to buy into the dorm or apartment.

Since more than half of all people using Napster are over the age of thirty, it proves that it does not target a small population. Napster believes that its early users are showing their parents how to use the new software, which has started a new trend for that age group. Napster sees the age gap closing with Internet use and realize that this is a huge success for them. People use Napster for a variety of reasons. Some chat with other music fan, while others look for the newest music. The increase of usage proves an important point for Napster: they are a growing company with numerous services to offer their users. Logging on to is easy and fun. It is a way to connect with people around the world, and each day the number of people who log on to Napster increases.

Napster is not the only online music company. There are tons of mp3 companies, but Napster remains to be the largest and most popular of the bunch. Napster does not fear the competition it faces. Instead, Napster tries to distinguish itself from its competition by offering the best services with the most updated information.

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