Inside digital music piracy and sharing in the 2000s via P2P networks like Napster, LimeWire, Gnutella, as well as IRC and internet music service Audiogalaxy (Abhimanyu Ghoshal/The Next Web)

December 31, 2018 at 12:30PM

Inside digital music piracy and sharing in the 2000s via P2P networks like Napster, LimeWire, Gnutella, as well as IRC and internet music service Audiogalaxy (Abhimanyu Ghoshal/The Next Web)

A couple of decades ago – well before a $10 monthly fee would unlock access to virtually every song ever recorded through streaming services – digital music piracy was rampant around the world. Whether it was because you were young and couldn’t afford to buy MP3s, or simply couldn’t access them in your country, it was all too common to simply download music shared by other people on the web.

What was particularly interesting back then was the wide range of ingenious methods people used to share tunes. Back in the day, people went beyond simply hosting music on public-facing websites, and instead, found ways to send and receive tracks directly with other internet users. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and take a look at some of the ways people grew their music collections in the late 90s and early 2000s.

But first, a little bit about MP3s

In the 90s, digital music was most commonly available in the form of albums on CDs, which stored about 700MB worth of uncompressed audio tracks – good for a full-length album. But with internet bandwidth and speeds being what they were back then, it didn’t make sense to copy those music files and send them to friends over the internet. A single four-minute song would weigh in at about 42MB in WAV format, and would take roughly three and a half hours to download.

Credit: Moving Picture Experts Group / Wikimedia Commons

Lucky for music fiends, the MP3 compression format came along in 1993 and made things a lot easier. It allowed for reasonable audio fidelity with comparatively small file sizes, making it easier to rip music from CDs, store them on hard drives (remember, this was back when the average household didn’t have a more than a couple hundred GBs of storage space at best), and distribute them online. That four-minute song I told you about? You could shrink it down to 3.84MB, at an acceptable bit rate of 128kbps.

And with that, we were off to the races.

The rise of Napster – and the fall of the music industry

While a small number of web users had already begun sharing music online through channels like the Internet Underground Music Archive, digital piracy really took off with the launch of Napster, a free file-sharing network that connected people around the world directly to one another.

A screenshot of the Napster desktop client for Windows
Credit: Tommy Ferraz