The History of Napster

A brief look at how the Napster brand has changed over the years

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Copyright Napster, LLC
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Before Napster became the popular online music service it is today, it had a very different face when it first came into existence in the late 90s. The developers of the original Napster (brothers Shawn and John Fanning, along with Sean Parker) launched the service as a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing network. The software application was easy to use and it was specifically designed for sharing digital music files (in the MP3 format) across a Web-connected network.

The service was extremely popular and provided an easy way for millions of Internet users to gain access to a large amount of free audio files (mostly music) that could also be shared with other Napster members. Napster was first launched in 1999 and quickly rose in popularity as Internet users discovered the service's huge potential. All that was required to join the Napster network was to create a free account (via a username and password). At the height of Napster's popularity, there were approximately 80 million users registered on its network. In fact, it was so popular that many colleges had to block the use of Napster because of network congestion caused by students obtaining music using peer-to-peer file sharing.

The big advantage for many users was the fact that there was a vast amount of music that could be downloaded for free. Just about every type of music genre was on tap in the MP3 format – originating from audio sources such as analog cassette tapes, vinyl records, and CDs.

Napster was also a useful resource for people looking to download rare albums, bootleg recordings, and the latest chart toppers.

However, the Napster file sharing service didn't last that long due to the lack of control on the transfer of copyrighted material across its network. Napster's illegal operations were soon on the radar of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) who filed a lawsuit against it for the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material.

After a long court battle, the RIAA eventually obtained an injunction from the courts which forced Napster to shutdown its network in 2001 for good.

Napster Reborn

Shortly after Napster was forced into liquidating its remaining assets, Roxio (a digital media company), put in a bid for $5.3 million cash to buy the rights for Napster's technology portfolio, brand name, and trademarks. This was approved by the bankruptcy court in 2002 overseeing the liquidation of Napster's assets. This event marked a new chapter in the history of Napster. With its new acquisition, Roxio used the strong Napster name to re-brand its own PressPlay music store and called it Napster 2.0

Other Acquisitions

The Napster brand has seen many changes over the years, with several acquisitions taking place since 2008. The first one being Best Buy's take over deal which was worth $121 million. At that time, the struggling Napster digital music service reportedly had 700,000 subscribing customers. In 2011, the streaming music service, Rhapsody, inked a deal with Best Buy to aquire Napster subscribers and 'certain other assets'. The financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed, but the agreement enabled Best Buy to retain a minority stake in Rhapsody.

Even though the iconic Napster name disappeared in the U.S., the service was still available under the Napster name in the United Kingdom and Germany.

Since acquiring Napster, Rhapsody has continued to develop the product and focused on reinforcing the brand in Europe. In 2013, it announced that it would be rolling out the Napster service in 14 additional countries in Europe.