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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Napster's legacy lives on
by Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Online music-sharing service Napster is re-launching as a legitimate paid-for music site two years after shutting down amid controversy and court battles.

Napster's place in internet history is secure - whether or not its new incarnation takes off.

Napster logo
Napster's full relaunch is scheduled for 29 October
At its peak, Napster was used by 60 million people across the world every day to exchange files - mainly music MP3s.

It was described as the "fastest growing business of all time", its success was likened to that of hit TV shows and it attracted more than $100m (60m) in investment.

And Napster's impact on the internet's development and the global music industry cannot be underestimated.

Napster was like James Dean - it lived fast, and died young and beautiful
Mark Mulligan, Jupiter Research
It became one of the most heavily-used online services for millions of people and spawned a host of imitators.

More crucially, it struck fear into the heart of music industry executives everywhere and forced them to realise that the global online music market was waiting to be served.

Mark Mulligan, research director at analysts Jupiter Research, said Napster put online music on the map.

January 1999 - Shawn Fanning drops out of university to write Napster
May 1999 - Napster is set up as an company and attracts $15m (9m) investment
December 1999 - The US music industry sues Napster
April 2000 - Rock band Metallica sue Napster
May 2000 - Federal court rules Napster is breaking the law
July 2000 - Napster ordered to shut down but decision overturned by appeals court
October 2000 - Napster reaches 38 million users and attracts $85m (50m) investment from record giant Bertelsmann
February 2001 - Appeals court rules Napster users are breaking the law. Napster offer of $1bn (600m) to record industry is rejected.
March 20001 - Napster begins to block access to copyrighted works
July 2001 - Napster is shut down until it can prove it is 100% free of copyright works
June 2002 - Napster files for bankruptcy
November 2002 - Software firm Roxio buys Napster and patents for $5m (3m).
October 2003 - Test launch of Napster 2.0 begins

He said: "Napster revolutionised not just the way people understood music on the internet but also how young people understand and use music generally.

"There is now a whole generation of people who understand music to be instantly available and with unlimited choice."

The story of the original Napster is not a simple one - it is in part a Cinderella tale and a story of DotCom to DotBomb failings.

Mr Mulligan said: "Napster was like James Dean - it lived fast, and died young and beautiful."

The Cinderella in question in Shawn Fanning, a university dropout who created Napster because a friend complained it was hard to find MP3 files on the internet.

Napster - so named because it was Fanning's nickname - offered a simple solution.

It allowed two PCs to communicate and exchange files over the internet and was written by Fanning and a friend, Sean Parker.

Released to college students in 1999, it quickly became popular and Fanning dropped out of university to spend more time on the program.

But its popularity proved its undoing - the world's major record labels began to notice how many people were exchanging music files for free.

Record executives recognised and feared this culture shift that Napster threatened to usher in.

In December 1999, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) - the music industry's trade group - sued Napster.

'Public arena'

And so began a lengthy series of court battles - but Napster grew in popularity and made the leap from internet geek chic to worldwide public consciousness.

The battles culminated in the company filing for bankruptcy and Napster being shut down for two years and counting.

When Napster's fall came, it was of little surprise to anyone.

Napster 2.0 won't replicate the success of the old service
Mark Mulligan
"Napster brought the whole complicated issue of copying and copyright into the public arena," said Mr Mulligan.

"Copying has always been part of the music industry - but in the digital era it meant that a home user was potentially a global pirate."

It also spawned imitators such as Audiogalaxy, Morpheus, Gnutella and Kazaa.

Mr Mulligan said these second generation programs - as well more sophisticated file-sharing services which make detection very difficult - have ensured the music industry is still feeling the "Napster effect".

Culture shift

"Long term, the impact has been to alter young people's perception of music and whether or not they should pay to receive music," Mr Mulligan said.

After the lawsuits, the firm eventually filed for bankruptcy and was bought for just $5m (3m) by Roxio, a software firm best-known for CD burning.

According to reports, Shawn Fanning made only $200,000 (120,000) from Napster, while his uncle made about $1m (600,000).

Napster's creator is now a consultant for Roxio but Mr Mulligan warned users that the launch of Napster 2.0 was not a return to its glory days.

"The new Napster is simply a paid-for music service which happens to have the Napster brand on it.

"It bears no resemblance to the old Napster service and nor could it."

He added: "It won't replicate the success of the old service. "But it has as good a chance of any of the current services of succeeding."

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