Home > Articles > M&M > A History of the Digital Music Revolution - Part IV


The Rise of (and Battle Over)

the MP3














MP3.com is launched in November by Michael Robertson, who purchased the domain name from California Internet entrepreneur Martin Paul for $1000.  The site offers 3000 songs free for download, and grows in time to become the first music site on the Internet with over three million hits per month.



Emusic.com invents online MP3 sales when it becomes the first commercial website to sell singles and albums in the MP3 format.


The Winamp MP3 player is born when Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev of the University of Utah program a Windows interface to the “AMP MP3 Playback Engine” that had begun to circulate the Internet.  The Amp player had been created the previous year by Tomislav Uzelac of Advanced Multimedia Products (AMP).  When Frankel and Boldyrev offer Winamp for free on the Internet, the true MP3 revolution begins. 


The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) attempts to block Diamond Multimedia Systems from releasing Rio, the world's first portable MP3 player. The RIAA drops the suit in August 1999, but the claim marks the beginning of the greater public’s awareness of the MP3 format.


The practice of purchasing domain names relating to trademarks and then selling them for huge prices is banned a U.S. court.



January 1999

"MP3" overtakes "sex" as the top search term on the Internet.


Shawn Fanning begins to work on Napster software.


February 1999

The Secure Digital Music Initiative is begun by the recording industry with help from Microsoft and IBM to kill the MP3 and replace it with a piracy-proof digital audio standard.


March 1999

150,000 copies of Tom Petty’s "Free Girl Now" single are downloaded from MP3.com when Petty posts the song for free.   Warner Bros. Records, Petty's label, orders the song removed less than two weeks later. 


May 1999

Just by chance he crossed a diamond with a pearl, and turned it on the world.  Nineteen-year-old Northeastern University freshman Shawn Fanning combined the file-sharing capabilities of Microsoft Windows, the searching and filtering functions of classic web-based search engines and the instant messaging abilities of Internet Relay Chat, and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing was born.  The service, called Napster, enabled anyone with a web connection to find and download shared files (usually MP3’s) on the hard drives of millions of other users.  The service exploded onto college campuses, where many students have easy access to high-speed Internet connections, and soon spread home to parents and across the nation.  Napster soon became the fastest growing home software application, and the fastest growing Internet phenomenon, in history.


August 1999

The RIAA drops its suit against Diamond Multimedia, freeing Diamond to release the Rio PMP300 portable MP3 player.   The device sold for $200 and had 32MB of space.


September 1999

David Bowie, with approval from EMI's Virgin Records, puts his album “Hours” on the Internet for purchase and download.  The event marks the first time a major record label authorized the digital distribution of copyrighted music.


December 7, 1999

A day that will live in infamy.  The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) files a lawsuit against Napster (and several universities) in the San Francisco U.S. District Court on grounds of encouraging copyright infringement, calling the service “a haven for music piracy on an unprecedented scale.”  The plaintiffs in the suit, including several major record labels like Universal Music, Bertelsmann AG (BMG), Sony Music, EMI, and AOL Time Warner, request damages of $100,000 for each time a song is copied.



The number of hosts on the Internet crosses 100,000,000.


January 2000

MP3.com introduces the My.MP3.com personal jukebox.  The system enables users to upload copies of their CD collection and listen to it anywhere in the world over the Internet.  80,000 CDs are uploaded into MP3.com’s database.  The major record labels, under the RIAA, soon file suit, arguing the system violates copyright law. 


March 2000

Gnutella is released by Winamp MP3 player creator Justin Frankel and Tom Pepper of Nullsoft (a division of AOL).   The program is a new kind of file-sharing system that does not rely on a central server to distribute files.  Although AOL attempts to pull the program, copies escape to the Internet and are soon in use by the public.   


MP3.com is sued by the National Music Publishers' Association for use of its members’ songs.


April 2000

Sony Music offers digital downloads of singles in the USA, the first major label to do so. 


Both Metallica and Dr. Dre file copyright infringement suits against Napster.


Limp Bizkit announces free concert tour sponsored by Napster.


A U.S. District Court Judge rules that MP3.com is in violation of copyright law, by creating a database of copyrighted music for commercial sale.  Four of the five major record labels in the suit later settle licensing deals with MP3.com for $20 million each.


May 3, 2000

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and the group's attorney show up at the door of the Napster offices in San Mateo, California.  In their hand is a list of 335,000 Napster users that are offering Metallica songs for download.  The two demand that the users be blocked from the site.  Napster agrees, but many users simply re-enter with a different user name.  Later, Ulrich later is booed on the MTV Music Video Awards.


May 5, 2000

San Francisco U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel rules that rules that Napster is in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998.  The act makes it illegal to make available to the public products or devices that enable people to disable technologies used encrypt or otherwise protect copyrighted materials.


July 2000

File-sharing service Scour is sued by The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for copyright infringement.


July 26, 2000

San Francisco U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, issues an injunction against Napster, ordering the company to prohibit copyrighted songs from appearing on its online file-sharing service within three days.  In her decision, Patel states that Napster was enabling “wholesale infringing” by its users of music industry copyright.  Napster’s legal team appeals the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Web traffic at Napster increases 71 percent the next day as users attempt scramble to take advantage of the service before it is likely shut down.


July 28, 2000

Napster’s appeal is successful, as 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stays the injunction and overturns the ruling of the U.S. District Court.  Napster is able to stay in operation until the outcome of the trial. 


September 2000

New file-sharing software called KaZaA is invented by FastTrack, based in Amsterdam.


October 2000

MP3.com and The National Music Publishers' Association announce a $30 million settlement, in which MP3.com is allowed to distribute over 1,000,000 songs through its new service, My.MP3.com.


October 2, 2000

The RIAA appeals to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, to reinstate the injunction against Napster by the U.S. District Court, which declared that Napster was in violation of copyright law.  Napster denies the charge.


October 31, 2000

Napster announces that it will partner with Bertelsmann AG (parent company of BMG), one of the record companies involved in the Napster lawsuit.  The two will develop a subscription-based music downloading service, guaranteeing payments to artists.  Bertelsmann will drop out of the RIAA lawsuit, and will make its music catalogue (the fourth largest in the world) available to Napster.  In exchange, Bertelsmann will receive an equity stake in Napster, which at this point has over 38 million users.



January 29, 2001

Bertelsmann AG announces that Napster will introduce a subscription fee for users beginning in summer 2001.


February 12, 2001

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules that Napster users are illegally distributing copyrighted music, and that Napster knew its users were violating copyright laws through its service.  The court orders Napster to stop its users from trading and distributing copyrighted material, but allows the company to stay in operation until U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel can re-draft her injunction to comply with the appellate court's decision.


February 20, 2001

Napster offers a $1 billion settlement to the five major record labels as well as several independent labels.  The offer is eventually rejected.


March 2, 2001

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issues an injunction against Napster, requiring the service to block the exchange of all copyrighted works between its 60+ million users.  However, Judge Patel requires the record companies to provide exact file names of the copyrighted songs to be removed. 


March 5, 2001

National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. files suit in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco against Napster for allowing the exchange copies of Eminem and Elton John's duet of “Stan,” which had been performed at the 43rd Annual GRAMMY telecast two weeks earlier.  The Academy drops plans to sell singles from the telecast. 


Napster voluntarily begins blocking the exchange of copyrighted material on its service, by blocking all songs listed on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and the Billboard 200 album chart.


March 9, 2001

The RIAA gives Napster a list of the song titles, artist names and file names of 135,000 copyrighted songs the five major record labels want removed from the service.  Immediately, users simply scramble the letters in file names to overcome the filtering.


March 13, 2001

Napster announces that it will employ the file-recognition services of a company called Gracenote to increase its ability to remove files that have been intentionally misspelled or scrambled.


March 27, 2001

The RIAA files a brief with the U.S. District Court claiming Napster is still allowing the exchange of copyrighted material, and has not complied with the injunction set forth by Judge Patel.


April 10, 2001

In a hearing to evaluate the progress the company is making in blocking copyrighted files, calls Napster an out-of-control "monster" that needs to be shut down, adding that Napster's earlier efforts to comply with her previous ruling were "disgraceful."  Napster says it has been difficult to filter out all of the permutations of the copyrighted songs, as users constantly change the file names.


April 20, 2001

Napster begins to use a new method to filter songs, called “acoustic fingerprinting.”  The technology was developed by a company called Relatable, and identifies a song by its wavelength pattern, overcoming the need to identify all versions of the file name.


April 27, 2001

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel asks the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to clarify whether the recording companies need to provide Napster with exact file names (as Patel had ordered), or just the song titles (as the record companies preferred) of songs to be removed.


June 5, 2001

Napster announces a deal with EMI, BMG, and Warner Music to distribute their music catalogs through a service to be called MusicNet.  The service will compete with Sony Music and Vivendi Universal’s service Pressplay.  Each group races to launch before the other.  MusicNet launches on December 11, 2001, and Pressplay launches just eight days later on December 19.


June 26, 2001

A group of 150 independent record labels from Great Britain sign on to be a part of Napster's upcoming subscription service MusicNet.


July 2, 2001

Napster shuts down as Judge Patel orders Napster to remain offline until it can prove it is 100 percent free of copyrighted material. 


July 11, 2001

Napster tells Judge Patel that it can be 99 percent free of copyrighted material, and asks to be allowed resume operations.  Judge Patel refuses, requiring the service prove it is 100 percent free of copyrighted works.  Napster declares her position to be in opposition to the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and immediately appeals her ruling.


July 12, 2001

Metallica and Dr. Dre both settle their lawsuits with Napster.


July 18, 2001

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals again reverses the ruling of Judge Patel, and allows Napster to go back online.  The service remains effectively castrated however, as it continues to block the exchange of most copyrighted music.







   PART I:  The Dark Ages:  When Time Stood Still

   PART II:  Dawn of the Computer Age

   PART III:  Dawn of the Internet

   PART IV:  The Rise of (and Battle Over) the MP3

   PART V:  Life After Napster  


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