Napster and LimeWire were some of the earliest music-sharing applications that did not obtain proper permissions to use licensed music. Users were able to download and share copyright-protected music without permission.
All commercially produced music is copyright protected. To download or stream it, you need permission to do so.
LimeWire and Napster employed a peer-to-peer music sharing service. Both of these sites were forced to shut down when major record labels and individual artists began suing them for copyright infringement and theft of creative property.
Do LimeWire or Napster Still Exist?
Napster began in 1999, offering an open-source, peer-to-peer music service where users could download and share popular music at no cost. This is a form of music piracy and shook the music industry as record labels and musicians were no longer getting paid for their content.
Napster faced multiple lawsuits from major record labels and artists. It was forced to shut down in 2001.
It also suffered lawsuits it could not recover from and was shut down in 2010. LimeWire is gone, but a spinoff, FrostWire, exists today as a BitTorrent client and media player.
What Happened to LimeWire & Napster?
Both LimeWire and Napster fell to lawsuits they could not recover from. These sites were offering access to pirated music for users for free without permission. They were not paying royalties to the record labels or artists who owned the copyrights to this content.
Napster was the first peer-to-peer music sharing site and one of the most recognizable in name still today. Napster began right around the time that MP3, digital music files, were becoming popular, and users were looking for free ways to access this music online.
Ultimately, Napster allowed users to share music with one another and download these songs for personal use without first paying for or obtaining the proper permission to do so.
As a result, the music industry came down hard on the platform. Napster lost court cases for copyright infringement and music theft to major record labels, including Universal, Island, Warner Brothers, Sony, A & M, and Interscope as well as popular musicians like Dr. Dre and Metallica.
Napster attempted to claim that they were not personally involved in the crime directly — that responsibility was on the users — but the court did not see it that way.
LimeWire faced a similar fate, losing a major legal battle with the Recording Industry Association of America. They were ordered to stop distributing copyrighted materials.
What Made Them Illegal?
Commercial music is copyright protected. Each song generally holds two different copyrights — one for the music composition and one for the recording itself, the master use.
To download or stream this music legally, a user needs to have permission to do so. Obtaining proper copyright license permission requires contacting the holders of the copyright licenses directly and obtaining permission.
Napster and LimeWire did not do this. As a result, artists and record labels did not see any royalties for their music. Essentially, this music was being stolen and distributed on a massive scale.
When Napster and LimeWire were created, streaming services that pay for licensing were not on the market yet. Users were turning to pirated options instead.
Legal Music Downloading & Streaming Sites
Today, there are a number of sites and services that offer the ability to download and/or stream copyrighted music. They can offer this based on special licensing and fees that are paid for licensing rights.
Artists and record labels often receive a payment for a certain number of streams for their music. Labels and artists will have agreements with these services, allowing them to offer their music to stream and download legally. Users will pay a monthly or annual service fee for this legal access.
Different types of streaming and downloading sites allow users to obtain music for personal use or stream it in public spaces. Different sites will have different licenses and legal uses. Most are subscription-based, requiring a monthly or annual contract for the legal rights.
These are examples of legal streaming sites as well as sites to download music:
To ensure that you are using streaming or downloading music legally, read through the terms of the site. Many of these services offer a free trial for 30 days or so to determine if the service is right for you. When using streaming services for business, uses or public dissemination often requires additional licensing and permissions can be necessary.
Determine the legalities of the music you are using first. There are many legal options for music streaming and downloading today that ensure the proper entities are obtaining the credit they deserve.