Napster Goes Unmourned to the Grave

By | September 4, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Like so many one-hit wonders before it, the demise of the once iconic online song-swapping service Napster has failed to stir much sympathy.

“Really, who cares?” Sebastian, a student at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, told Reuters as he heard that Napster would likely be forced into Chapter 7 liquidation as early as Thursday.

“Everybody’s moved on to other file-sharing (services). The interest for Napster in the Internet community just wasn’t as high as everybody originally thought,” said the 28-year old student of IT engineering.

During its heyday in 2000, Napster attracted tens of millions of music fans who traded all manners of recorded music from Eminem singles to rare concert recordings of the Dave Matthews Band.

To the chagrin of the media establishment, Napster introduced the concept of file-trading to a generation of youths who now exchange a wide range copyright-protected materials from feature-length movies to video games, drawing Hollywood and lawmakers into the fray to corral the activity.


While the legacy of Napster thrives, the service itself became a non-entity as it shut down a year ago amid mounting legal troubles. Thursday, Net discussion groups were largely devoid of commentary on the online service that major music labels once considered to be public enemy number one.

“Well, it’s official,” read one discussion group posting, summing up a demise that has long had an air of inevitability – as an underground service it was a hit, but as a business it had no chance.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, one of Napster’s chief nemeses, gave a bitter-sweet obituary to the defunct service.

“Napster had a great technology but it was never going to be successful until it managed to turn that technology into a legitimate business model that respected the copyright of artists and record companies,” the IFPI said in a statement.

Napster’s fate was sealed Wednesday when a U.S. bankruptcy court rejected German media group Bertelsmann’s bid to buy Napster. Record labels and songwriters had opposed the deal, saying the price was unfair.


The decision leaves Napster, which had been grounded since July, 2001, with no choice but to pull the plug on the operation.

Napster, which still has a large copyright-infringement suit hanging over its head from the labels, is expected to file for Chapter 7 liquidation Thursday, sources said.

A statement from Napster Wednesday said the company had fired staff and shut down the operation. A trustee will auction off Napster’s assets that include its globally recognized brand name, Web addresses and proprietary technologies.

The Napster Web Site now consists of two pages – “Napster was here” on the home page, linking only to a crude tombstone bearing the trademark headphone-wearing cat and the legend “Ded kitty.”

Wednesday, officials at some of the music labels told Reuters they did not think the fall of Napster would have any meaningful impact on the file-sharing and music piracy craze.

The labels may have triggered Napster’s demise, but it leaves behind a more powerful crop of imitators including Morpheus MusicCity, Grokster and Kazaa, sites which have succeeded in driving the activity further underground.

As a posting by a person nicknamed “PianoMan” said: “They will never stop it. Or even slow it down. And as you may have guessed, I’m not sympathetic.”

Henry Wilson, founder of Grokster, a peer-to-peer network named in a lawsuit by Hollywood and the labels for copyright abuse, pointed out that Napster went out of business before the courts could make a final ruling on the legitimacy of file-sharing networks.

“I don’t think you can say this is a win for (the labels) on the legal front,” Wilson told Reuters.

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