I remember it like it was yesterday, that magical Fall of '00 and the ensuing semester in Spring of '01. It was a glorious time to be a young music fan, especially one in college. You see, universities had yet to wise up to the perils of giving students an absurd amount of bandwidth with no checks, and the RIAA had yet to fully realize the impact a little program called Napster would have on how people would access their music in the 21st century. The not so shocking result was of course tens of thousands of students downloading thousands of songs (and thats just at UNT) bringing the university's servers to the slowest of all crawls as people downloaded everything they could think of. It also answers the question how the hell did Wesley Willis ever get famous?
I don't think I can overstate how many millions of .mp3s were being made and shared, and how hammered the servers were. A simple internet search during the middle of the day would take 15s just to load a webpage. Around that same time a simple and yet revolutionary game called Counter-strike was released (Winter of 2000) to make sure that several dozen students would never make it to class again, the problem is the lag was so bad internet play was impossible and we were relegated to playing on internal servers-something which turned out to be fun as you'd run into other players in the dorm cafeterias and shoot them the death stare for pwning you previously that day-it fostered this weird community on campus. But I digress, I'm burying the lead.
By the Fall of '01 most universities in America had either put bandwidth caps on students, or outright blocked Napster from their network to preserve their network integrity and because the RIAA had caught wind and was threatening to sue nearly every American university for allowing access to pirated music. This was the genesis of the music pirate vs. the RIAA feud that has been brewing ever since. Napster was eventually shut down (to later re-open as a pay site), but the damage had been done and Gnutella clients such as Limewire and Bearshare quickly filled the void. In fact, every time the RIAA would try to shut a service down the programmers would get smarter and figure out new ways to hide the IPs of the users or would base the servers out of strange 3rd world countries. To counter their efforts, the RIAA spent millions of dollars on fighting these programs and their users (instead of, you know, improving their music or reducing the price of the records people didn't want to buy), eventually settling on a way to track the IP address of users whom they would then sue.
And sue they did, estimates are that the RIAA has sued 35,000 people since 2003, settling for an absolutely batshit insane $3,500 per a song downloaded/shared. They've sued grandmothers, single moms, children, deceased people, and people who don't even own computers. You see, the way the RIAA tracked you wasn't an exact science, but more of a scattershot strategy-the result being thousands of innocent people being sued and forced to either pay the RIAA to go away (settle out of court) or pay even more money for attorneys to fight the RIAA (of which they would re-coup none of it). The RIAA had managed to find a way to use the American Justice System to strong-arm innocent people, all in a vain effort to stop something that was unstoppable and with the rational that they're losing millions of dollars (most of which they'd have never seen, college students weren't going to buy that Journey record or Wesley Willis record, we'd download it for free but we sure as shit weren't going to buy it instead of 4 beers and a shot at the bar.
So in the midst of these insane lawsuits, have sprung up new and more secure sharing programs. Hosted off-shore, these international sites were invite-only and acted as the largest free record store in the world. Oink was one of the best known until British officials finally shut it down last year (and that didn't stop anyone, we all just moved to new sites). The beauty of Oink was you had to share as much as you took, and if that ratio became too weighted (you were taking more than you were giving), then you'd be tossed from the site-and to get tossed from that site would be punishment, as it boasted literally just about every song off every record in the world (and if it wasnt there, you could request it and you'd get it) in variable qualities and available for free at the touch of a button. It was a music lover's paradise. If you're so inclined, you can read a fantastic essay about Oink and the music industry in general here. It's a great read.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that also having arrived (several year too late I might add, again because of the RIAA blocking them) were pay music sites such as iTunes-where you could plop down $0.99 for a song, and these sites have flourished. But battle lines had been drawn years before, and there were hundreds of thousands of us that thumbed our nose at the RIAA, vowing not to buy music again (unless it's local or independent) as a means to stop feeding the bear that was the RIAA music cartel. And last week, we scored our first victory.
Fri Dec 19, 2008, LOS ANGELES - The group representing the U.S. recording industry said Friday it has abandoned its policy of suing people for sharing songs protected by copyright and will work with Internet service providers to cut abusers' access if they ignore repeated warnings.
The beauty of the internet, is that it bring the power back to the people, and the people have spoken. And we will continue to speak until the RIAA burns to the ground and is lying in the grave it dug for itself. So pat yourselves on the back music fans, we all deserve it. Now we just need to get these people off their iTunes crack......