The sharing of downloadable music files has had a potted history littered with technological advances, law suits, and drama.

For those who were using the Internet around 1999 and 2000 you will be familiar with Napster which was the first giant of illegal music file sharing, and was the catalyst for many of the legitimate systems we now use today such as Spotify and iTunes.

Below is a history of digital music file sharing with a timeline of the major events involved.

1999 – Shaun Fanning launches Napster, with users reaching over 25 million by 2001. Eventually Napster would be forced to close due to various lawsuits, including high profile fights with bands such as Metallica who were against music file sharing.

2000 – Gnutella launches to be in direct competition with Napster. Napster itself is credited by the media in helping the Radiohead album Kid A reach the top of the charts which went against the grain of the legal arguments and injunctions being placed against it at the time.

2001 – Napster hits the 25 million user mark in February but is eventually forced to shut down in July. BitTorrent, Kazaa, and LimeWire all launch over the Summer to fill the void left by Napster.

2002 – AudioGalaxy starts to block illegal music sharing after a lawsuit from the RIAA and eventually has to settle with the organization after a complex court case. SoulSeek is released later in the year, continuing a trend of one service being shut down, only to be quickly replaced by another.

2003 – A document called the Open Music Model is published which includes a business model for how digital music publishing would be handled in the future. At the same time The Pirate Bay is launched.

2007 – iTunes is launched by Apple, offering a legal alternative for music downloads, which are tied into only being played on their iPod devices. Major record labels start to sit up, take notice, and get involved.

2008 – Spotify is launched in Sweden and offers a streaming music service. Over time the company would become the largest streaming music provider globally and would work on a payment model to the record labels and artists each time their tracks were played.


2009 – The Pirate Bay are taken to court, with the founding members being found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison each as well as significant financial penalties imposed.

2010 – LimeWire are subject to a law suit which meant users were prevented from searching and download illegal or shared content including millions of music files.

2012 – The popular file sharing site, MegaUpload was shut down including seizure of domain names and physical property. The guy behind the website would shortly launch a new service, simply called Mega.

Fast forward to 2013, and illegal music download sites and peer to peer systems are becoming less and less popular due to the proliferation of iTunes and Spotify. With music now becoming increasingly cheaper, many music fans no longer feel the need to download music for free, and a cheap and accessible business model appears to be here to stay for at least the foreseeable future.

By Adi Moore

Adi MooreFounder
Adi, the anti-censorship crusader and tech-preneur, bootstrapped his first venture in 2001 from his attic into a digital empire. With a heart for open dialogue and transparent technology, he tackles censorship like a pro wrestler. Dive into his deep insights on freedom of speech, internet liberation, and his secret info recipe.

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