Grappling With the ‘Culture of Free’ in Napster’s Aftermath

from NYTs

Once upon a time, a new technology happened along. It was called radio. Soon enough, some people began plucking wireless transmissions out of the air for their own purposes. One clever young man in Washington figured out how to intercept messages that Navy units sent to one another. “He has represented himself to be at distant naval stations or at sea on warships equipped with wireless apparatus,” a magazine called Electrical World reported in 1907. Back then, this fellow’s actions were not unlawful. They amounted nonetheless to a form of piracy.

As radio grew more sophisticated, so did those intent on beating the system. In 1960s Britain, radio pirates flourished on unlicensed stations that broadcast from ships anchored beyond territorial limits. They found eager audiences in young people who tuned in for the latest from the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Who. (Talkin’ ?bout my generation.) Then the world went digital. Naturally, pirates tagged along. One of them, the online sharing service Napster, forms the core of this Retro Report offering, the final installment in the current series of video documentaries examining the consequences of major news stories from the past.

Napster did not last long, two years. But for a while at the dawn of this century it claimed to have 70 million registered users. It spawned a host of Internet music-swapping providers, more than a few of them falling on the dubious side of the law. Most important, it irrevocably altered not only the way in which Americans absorbed music but also their belief system in what they should pay. The conviction theologically held by many boiled down to a single word: nothing. “You have a generation of people now who expect their music for free,” Greg Hammer, managing director of Red Bull Records, a branch of the energy-drink company, told Retro Report. “It’s very difficult to change.”

More here.

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12 Responses to Grappling With the ‘Culture of Free’ in Napster’s Aftermath

  1. Suzaun January 23, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

    First I would like to start of saying, that I grew up in a generation where Walkman’s were a hot commodity. I had to buy each and every CD I put into my Walkman, which got very costly, so when music piracy sites hit I was ecstatic. Ever since the recession hit, the economy just hasn’t been the same. Paying $15 for an album on iTunes or a dollar and some change per song adds up and can really make a dent in your wallet! I don’t know about you, but I have almost a thousand songs on my iPod and if I had paid for all of those I wouldn’t have money left for anything else.
    This article makes some valid points about the technology world.
    The article suggests that Napster was the gateway to music streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify. Which I think is a good thing, since it is a legal alternative for listening to music, but its not like the artists are getting paid none the more than pocket change with these sites. I found it horrible reading that in the article that Zoe Keating, a bass violinist, got paid only $1,652.74 for having her song played 1.5 million times. The song cost more to make and I am sure took a lot more effort than that!
    As mentioned in the article; Napster brought a lot of upcoming artists to light and made them relevant to the music industry. Napster was a way to have their music heard without knowing any music producer connections. I believe Napster had many pros than cons for not only the listeners, but as well as the artists. As I was reading I realized that before Napster and LimeWire people were paying big bucks for CD’s but ever since Napsters two year debut people barely want to pay anything for music! and I agree with that very much. Music is what we listen to when we want to relax and unwind, but how can we unwind when we know we spent $15 for the album?
    Shawn Fanning who apparently is a computer whiz came up with the idea of converting music into mp3 files and sharing them. That was an idea that he came up with years ago, technology has become more advance and there has been an abundance in computer “whiz’s”. There are ways to getting around paying for music today with youtube to mp3 converter sites where you put in the youtube url of the site you want press generate and, voila!.The government shut down the use of sites like Napster, but allows sites like the mp3 converter sites which don’t help any upcoming artists.

  2. Preet M. February 12, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    As an enthusiastic music listener, I certainly benefitted from sites like Napter when they were first introduced. I was in middle school at the time and it was a great way for me to gain access to the latest songs without having to scrounge pennies in order to purchase a CD. This culture of “free”, as the article states, is not going anywhere. Once this idea was introduced to the public there was no way that people were going back to the traditional way of listening to music.
    Now with apps like Spotify and Pandora, I hardly ever pay for music. From an artist’s perspective, I can imagine how difficult it could be to watch your work basically be given away for free. Of course the Record Labels and artists receive a percentage from these companies – but it is nothing compared to the sales they could be receiving if we were forced to purchase the traditional way. Someone like Taylor Swift, who is one of the biggest celebrities in the world, may not be totally hurt by such practices but the article did open my eyes to the idea of lesser known musicians whose livelihoods depend on earnings from their music alone. As Swift states in a recent article, “On Spotify, they don’t have any settings, or any kind of qualifications for who gets what music. I think that people should feel that there is a value to what musicians have created, and that’s that.” (
    Although she makes a valid point, I don’t think this culture of the public expecting free music is ever going away. Of course CDs and even records will still be sold, iTunes will continue being successful, and artists can continue protesting the new trends by having their work removed from streaming sites. However, this issue will continue to change and morph just as fast as the any new music sharing applications will.

  3. Hazelb February 16, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

    The basic construct of the music industry is changing right in front of us. As a new generation of consumers expects “free” music, the producers and distributors are slowly realizing that their revenue model needs to change. Although record companies are losing money, it is a great new way to advertise products and services. While enjoying music and media, consumers are more open to advertisements because they are in a better mood than traditional advertisements methods of television and radio. Commercials during television programming is frustrating for a viewer because it interrupts the show they are watching. However, a commercial succeeding an emotionally-driven song or video has a greater impact because someone is more susceptible to marketing tactics. Although one business sector is losing revenue due to the online sharing programs, many others are able to benefit from a new advertising medium. The internet allows cookies to track the movement of each technological device. Companies are able to purchase that information to pinpoint potential customers. The Digital Advertising Alliance found that companies are willing to pay substantially more for cookie-based ads ( Essentially, through tracking online history advertisers are able to determine who are most likely to purchase specific products. This style of advertising is particularly appealing to retailers because the market is very segmented. Stores differentiate themselves in order to monopolize a particular type of consumer. The concept of “free” media is not really free because of the amount of ads.

  4. Sade April 1, 2015 at 11:59 am #

    I personally think artists should pay some type of fee when listening to music. From my past experience of playing instruments and befriending those of musical backgrounds, I understand the negative effects when artists are not compensated and acknowledged for their work. Many do not completely grasp what exactly happens when making music. Yes, it takes talent, practice, and patience. Unfortunately, since the late nineties, the practice of free music has caused negative backlash for those in the music industry. Before fans can even hear any music, it has to be created by recording. A majority of artists, regardless of genre can spend up to two to five years recording. Studio time expenses accumulate with space, equipment, engineers, and tens of thousands and millions can go exclusively to producers and writers. This all depends on the credentials and talent of the individual.
    If music listeners can’t comprehend the monetary gains that artists are entitled to, It’s baffling and almost insulting when fans argue and in uproar when their favorite artists, producer, and/or writer are not acridity acknowledged for music awards when it was clear that they were actually deserving of awards. Artists can’t win awards like Grammy’s, musical plaques like platinum, gold, and diamond, and chart placements when fans are not paying the proper price for the music because it comes down to revenue that can be generated.
    Lastly, when royalties are not properly generated and paid, you may notice that many artists and groups tour for many years, especially when it’s past their prime. I have also noticed that these artists are not winning awards due to consumers refusing to purchase the music. Record sales are low and they have to continue to promote past and present music through shows. Along with touring whether in state or out of the country, more profits have to be made by merchandise and backstage VIP packages. I believe there is no turning back when concerning consumer entitlement to free music. Though artists can be paid through music Medias like Apple, the future is still bleak. YouTube, Google, Yahoo, Ask, and Bing continue to stream free music, reinvented media platforms like Myspace are now offering free music and there are still illegal sites to download music.

  5. Dylan Walko April 27, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    It’s amazing looking back on it now that Napster was the first provider of illegally downloaded music for sharing. Something that was entirely new in the 90’s and brought up various legal questions, especially for something that did not even exist until than especially on such a large scale. But now in the 21st century so much has changed, both coming and going. After Napster was brought down, things such as Morpheus and Limewire took center stage and also met its demise eventually, but not nearly with as much ease. With encrypted firewalls and every other form of protection needed these programs were able to last much longer than the latter Napster. But now today there comes a completely different issue at hand. It is no longer illegal sharing, it is the streaming of music instead of actually buying the product. Today with Spotify and other providers every song imaginable is right at the subscriber’s fingertips for less than $10 a month. If records don’t have a problem with this in the near future it would be a major shock. Millions of dollars are being stripped from these labels, even Taylor Swift took her music off of Spotify saying that it is an art and shouldn’t be, basically, free. It continues to evolve, it should be exciting to see where it all goes next for the music industry

  6. Rhiannon K. June 11, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

    As a college student, I know plenty of people who do not like paying for their music. Students do not feel the need to pay $1.29 for a song if they can just find it on the Internet for free. Technology makes it so easy to find and download songs for little to no cost. Not many people buy physical copies of music any more. This means that musicians are not making money from digital downloads and they definitely are not making money back through the sale of CDs. It is not exactly cheap to produce music either. Musicians have to pay production costs and a lot of times they need to pay in order to sell their music on places like iTunes. It is a shame because artists work so hard to make music for everyone, but no one appreciates it enough to pay them back. For some people, making music is their main source of income. If no one actually pays for music, musicians will not have the money in the future to create more music. There is band that I love, Augustana, and for years they could not tour or produce a new album because it just did not make sense financially. It is very upsetting that they cannot do something that they love, especially when they are as talented as they are. I think the music industry is going to need to find another way to make money for the musicians because clearly after the invention of Napster, no one wants to pay money for music. I do not think that YouTube, or similar websites, will be enough for the everyday artist to continue creating what they want to create. The fact that music is not the only thing that people do not want to pay for is concerning as well. The economy is going to be in a lot of trouble if people do not want to pay for books, newspapers, magazines or music. A lot of people will be out of jobs and a lot of talented people will not be able to express themselves.

  7. Megan Moore October 14, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

    The article “Grappling with the ‘Culture of Free’ in Napster’s Aftermath,” discussed how Napster affected the music industry. Napster was spawned the creation of Internet music swapping providers that fell on the dubious side of the law. In addition, Napster changed the way we absorbed music and our belief system in what we should pay for music. Today’s generation now expects to get music for free. Napster negatively affected the music industry through high tech piracy. On the contrary, some artists believed that Napster could help them build their fan base. More modern ways of listening to music include paying for the songs on iTunes or streaming services where you borrow the songs to listen to. Streaming services are not piracy because they pay music companies for rights to the songs. Industry executives believe that things will work out in terms of artists being properly compensated for their music. For example, YouTube is planning to offer users the opportunity to pay a minimal fee in order to have extra features when listening to music. In essence, technology is continuing to evolve and the music industry will continue to evolve as a result.
    I believe that people should have to pay for the music they listen to. From a consumer perspective I enjoy getting things for free but from an artist perspective I can understand their frustration with basically giving away their music for free and not getting anything in return. Revenue models need to change as a result of new generations and what they expect. It is a shame that artists spend so much time, money and energy creating music and they are not being properly compensated for their efforts. Many people do not want to pay for anything these days and expect everything to be handed to them. This will have a very negative impact on society. Music is not the only medium that is suffering from these issues. Books, newspapers and other print media is being negatively effected by this sense of wanting everything for free. This will lead to many companies closing and loss of jobs. In conclusion, artists should be compensated and acknowledged for their work.

  8. A. Palm November 4, 2015 at 11:55 pm #

    I find this article interesting because I come from the age where we were transitioning from CD to mp3 and digital downloading. When I was under the age of 10, I had my mom buy all the CD’s for my favorite artists and that was how I listened to my music, through my CD player or in the car radio. By middle school, I had an iPod and I was utilizing I-Tunes. It was around middle school that I had discovered free file-sharing sites like LimeWire, which is comparable to Napster. I began to utilize those sites and that was when I was convinced that I did not want to pay for anymore of my music. I would search the internet for countless hours for downloadable links in order to get my music for free.

    Still to this day, I refuse to pay the $1.29 for the iTunes music. I instead utilize accounts such as Spotify and Pandora, where I can make my own playlists and I get brand new music at the touch of a button, something that I could not necessarily do with my iPod.File-sharing sites have spolied my generation with not willing to pay for music. I can also admit if the artist is someone who I really like and support, I will buy their album from the stores in order to support them. In other cases, I just add the album to my Spotify playlist and jam out to it in the car for free.
    I am not exactly sure what we can do to reverse this mindset but to continue to teach the generations after us that paying for music and supporting the artists is the best way to go.

  9. Tommy Rinaldi January 29, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    Instead of talking about the aftermath of Napster first, I would like to take a step back first. Before Napster people used 8 tracks, vinyls, cassettes, and more. It was more of an experience to listen to music before Napster. A person would have to go to a record store to buy a vinyl, go home to their record player and let the disk spin. To me there is a certain satisfaction to pushing in a cassette tape into a stereo or letting a needle spin on a vinyl. It feels more personal and in my opinion sounds better. It is the way music was supposed to be heard. With the development of Napster, and like programs, there became a loss of a certain connection with music. Napster is one of the reasons people would sit in front of a computer for so long. Downloading music whether it be free or illegal has taken away from a certain culture. There can be no more passing down of physical records from generation to generation. When I grew up, I had both worlds. Downstairs in my house, my family had this big stereo console that played CD’s and cassette tapes. I would listen to cassette tapes of the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” and The Who’s “Tommy”. Also, after downloading music from LimeWire, a program similar to Napster, my brothers would burn CD’s of totally different genres of music all on that one CD. To me, there is a special feeling actually watching the tape from inside the cassettes move or watching a record spin and producing music.
    Nowadays, these programs are not even needed anymore. We have websites like SoundCloud, Youtube, Vevo, and more that play music for free and give us a different type of experience.

  10. Gerry Kiruthu January 29, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

    Free is always the best way to get something new. As consumers, whether it’s a free ticket to a game, a free piece of candy from the doctor’s office, or a free sample from Costco, we all appreciate free. The love that most consumers love for free goods comes from the fact that we did not need to make an investment of any sort to enjoy the benefits that the particular service or treat had to offer. Fortunately and at the same time unfortunately, music is one of those treats that most of us enjoy when it is free of charge. Taking a look back, this all started with the technological wonder and brand new innovation with the radio. Most of us only know of radios in our cars but it was once the Netflix of its day. Individuals and families would sit around the radio and listen to the news, shows, and music and because Napster was a music service, the history concentration will be on the evolution of music. After the radio, music was sold and listened to on 8tracks, vinyls, cassette tapes, CDs, and the television with the emergence of live broadcasting of performances and later on, the MTV era of music videos and music television.
    Just like the television industry’s struggle with piracy, the music industry has also been hit hard by the same level of turmoil. The only difference is that the television industry is competing with services like Netflix and Hulu whose viewers have to pay a monthly fee as opposed to Napster and mp3 converters where the consumers don’t pay anything. With Netflix and Hulu, there is a way to make sure that the media houses and actors etc will receive some sort of royalty because their shows are being viewed on a legal service that has to be paid for. With music on the other hand, artists and labels have no assurance that they will be compensated for their hard work. Some albums on iTunes are just as much or more expensive than a one month’s subscription to Netflix; therefore as a consumer, I would not easily see the value in that as much as I would to Netflix for example. Today, with new music applications like Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud and 8tracks, listeners have the ability to listen to music for free with the occasional one minute ad interference. This allows the developers to make their money, as well as them granting the artists a way to get paid for their hard work. With the emergence of Napster, before music streaming services came to be, free music was the way to go. It was easy to get, the product you were looking for was amazing to listen to, but with Napster it was even better because they did not have to make a financial investment: it was free of charge. The only inconvenience in Napster was that it was time consuming to get a hold of the final product. With the ease of streaming, it is settled that the consumer is happy at the end of the day with a short thirty second ad being the only inconvenience.
    The other question is: is the producer happy? Are the artists happy? Well, according to the article, the artist interviewed was displeased with the amount of money, in royalties, that she is earning from the music streaming services. The problem brought up with music streaming services now is that the artists are not getting reimbursed enough for what they spend months working so hard on. This is what has led the music mogul and artist Jay Z to start his own music streaming site, Tidal. The only issue with it is that you have to pay for it straight up. That now presents a problem that consumers don’t want to deal with. Why would they want to pay for something they can get for free by just listening to a minute of ads a day? With Napster, the word free became more of a requirement with our music and nothing less more expensive than free will float anyone’s boat now.

  11. Audrey Manion February 9, 2018 at 10:50 pm #

    I will start off by saying that I am one of those people who go to record stores to buy physical CD’s and vinyl for fun. I almost always listen to albums all the way through, hearing the music completely as the artists intended. I do use some streaming services like Pandora and Spotify every now and then, but only when my iPod is not in reach, or I am not listening to one of my CD’s in the car. However, my listening habits were not always so old school. When I was growing up, and programs like Napster were still very popular, I hardly ever paid for music. I would hear a song that I liked on the radio, find it on the internet and download it for free. My music collection was limited to single songs from a certain artist, or if I really liked them, I might take the time to download the whole album.
    While this way of collecting music stuck with most people, as we have shifted into a “culture of free” as the author calls it, I graduated from stealing music to almost exclusively buying physical albums. I realize that this is outdated (I really only use the physical copy of the CD to download the music onto my iPod, and in my car), but I would still argue that it is a better way to listen to music and support the artists that you love. Some people like streaming services because they don’t have to pay for an album that they may not like, but with YouTube and other sites on the internet, it is very easy to preview all of the songs to make sure you like them before buying them. Also, taking a trip to a local record store can broaden your taste in music, and help you find artists that you might not normally listen to. In my opinion, paying around $10 for an album with 10-15 songs on it is a fair price; some people spend more on a trip to Starbucks. This “culture of free” is hurting so many artists like the cellist in the article. Not everyone has the choice to keep their music off of Spotify or Pandora. The fact that they get paid is great, but over a million plays for less than $2,000? That should be considered stealing. Streaming apps and the expectation of “free” music is hurting musicians who aren’t going to be millionaires, but at least want to make a living off the music that they labor over.
    I cannot say that streaming apps are not convenient, but I believe that things still must be worked out to give artists more power over their content. I realize that not everyone will be like me and take trips to find new CD’s for fun, but our culture needs another shift from being focused on free, to focusing on fairly valuing the music they listen to every day.

  12. Koyinsola Okulaja March 21, 2018 at 10:12 pm #

    As someone who grew up during the popular phases of Napster and LimeWire, I can count on my hands the number of times I have paid for music in my lifetime. The culture of free is still something that exists today, there are still many websites that allow you to download songs and albums for free. As many of us didn’t have too much money to be spending on things like music it only made sense for us to look on the internet to see if we are able to find things online for free. This is true today not only for music, many different things can be found online for free like applications, textbooks and things that would usually cost a lot of money. Today, although music is easier to get, through the streaming platforms it is also very cheap and affordable. For example, Apple music has a student fee of five dollars a month and for that small fee you are able to access millions of songs. The one downfall of this is that majority of the time, you need internet connection in order to listen to all of these songs. They are able to do this through the deals that they have signed with many record companies which allows them to have their music on the streaming site. Some people have argued that by us getting all this music for free it is ruining it for the artists which makes a lot of sense. Since they are no longer getting money from the sales of their music, they are forced to make money in other ways. CD’s are also becoming more and more rare; artists do not make too much money from CD’S. They make majority of their money from performing. The free access could be viewed as a negative thing but I would like to take a look at the positive side of this, by the music being accessible and free, it means that it has a broader reach meaning people will be able to listen to the music which could generate more money for the artist when they are performing. Today even tough I am a student in college and I work part time, if I wanted to legally purchase the amount of music I listen too I still will not be able to afford it. You can also find some music on YouTube which now counts towards sales for an artist. Overall the free file sharing of music was not one that the music companies liked at first, but since then they have been forced to find ways to adjust and make sure they are able to at least make some money.

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