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The Napster controversy

The muddy waters of pirate music

Only a few years ago, consumers were largely unaware of MP3. Talk of MP3s or those who knew anything about the technology was limited to a scant few people exchanging files. Indeed, even people who wanted to make MP3s couldn't, as the Fraunhofer lab wanted payment to use its MP3 encoder.

Now that MP3 technology has hit the Internet mainstream, everyone is getting into the act. People are copying CDs onto their hard drives and exchanging music files with people around the world. Who would've thought that such a miniscule portion of the Internet would erupt into the frenzy it is today?

Who can MP3 fans thank for that? If it weren't for the numerous lawsuits filed by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and other organisations, MP3 technology and awareness would never have reached so many people so quickly. Anyone who was curious could download a player, rip a few MP3s, tell a couple of friends, and so on.

Seeing its emerging popularity, a number of business-oriented people jumped on the MP3 bandwagon. Michael Robertson, CEO of MP3.com, was wise enough to register the most sought after domain name related to MP3s.

Robertson built an entire empire of unsigned artists who let their material be downloaded through the MP3.com site. Since then, MP3.com has moved into more unfriendly waters by offering the My.MP3.com service, which lets people store their music online at the MP3.com Web site.

An entire industry has grown out of the search for MP3s. Software that lets people exchange MP3 files in a more direct manner has started to appear. Led by Napster, this growing industry is not on solid ground, as these individuals and companies are essentially using pirated music as their foundation. Of course, the RIAA saw what Napster has done to the proliferation of illegal MP3s and filed a lawsuit, but this hasn't stopped other companies from developing, or at least attempting to develop, file-sharing software.

Nullsoft, the creator of one of the very first mainstream MP3 players, released its file-sharing software at the beginning of March. The program was quickly scrapped when America Online, Nullsoft's parent company, found out about it and declared it an unauthorised freelance project.

Even now, GlobalScape -- the developer of the popular FTP software CuteFTP -- has released its own file-sharing software. Whether or not it will let people exchange MP3s and other forms of media remains to be seen, but it's clear that the threats issued by the RIAA against companies planning to develop software that lets people trade MP3s have fallen on deaf ears.

  • MP3: You can't stop the music ... How MP3 went - with a bullet - from an obscure German compression technique to the music industry's current chart-topping controversy

  • MPEG Audio Layer 3, defined To completely understand how MP3 came into existence, the audio layers incorporated into MPEG-1 must be explained

  • Is it really legal to have MP3s? Perhaps one of the biggest questions surrounding MP3s is the question of legality. Depending on whom you talk to, MP3s are both legal and illegal.

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