Megaupload Goes Down: Five Lost Music-Stealing Technologies

It's true: Megaupload has been gone an entire week, and for the millions of people who used the site because they like their totally legal for-pay cloud storage to come equipped with fake download links and massive flash banner ads I'm sure things have been difficult.

For copyright holders, massive intellectual property conglomerates, and people who couldn't bear to see this man happy and successful, it was a victory, but nobody involved seems particularly eager to gloat. After all, in the ten years and change since people discovered they could get out of going to a public place and buying the Hanson album they secretly desired, the same high-profile shutdown routine has befallen these earlier facilitators of piracy.

1. Napster--1999-2001 One thing I plan to tell my grandchildren, as I'm taking them to school in a flying car I probably shouldn't be licensed to drive anymore: There was a time when I found it impossible to imagine a song as an individual file that could be in more than one place at once.

Napster rapidly disabused me of that notion. I can listen to "Buddy Holly" and "Underground" back to back without waiting for a Time-Life collection of Rockin 90s Hits to come out in that exact configuration? I can just have the good Wings songs? And they're all sitting in a big window that I can organize?

Napster was popular primarily because the music was free and its user base--teenaged Slashdot readers--was really cheap, but when I think about how music was consumed before I'm reminded that part of the reason file-sharing gained so much traction so quickly was that it was so much better.

2. KaZaA--2001-2005 Later on, KaZaA gained so much traction so quickly exclusively because we were all really cheap. I don't think there's ever been a less pleasant program to use--most people learned what malware was when KaZaA installed an entire suite of it on their parents' computer.

Eventually, given enough time and a computer sufficiently removed from the eyesight of people you respect and the auspices of the FBI, you could find the good Wings songs amid a swamp of viruses, corrupt files, and animal-centric pornography all named "Goodnight_Tonight.MP3.EXE," but if Napster was fast, efficient, and utopian in its vision of music collecting, KaZaA required people in the middle class to do a cost-benefit analysis between ruining their Windows XP installation and going to Sam Goody and buying Wingspan themselves. If music had been as easy to steal in 2005 as it was in 2001, the iTunes Music Store wouldn't have gotten nearly as much traction as it did.

3. ourTunes--whenever you were a college freshman Anyone in a dormitory before Apple broke this utility--which allowed you to download any songs shared in iTunes on the local network--probably used it in the first few weeks they were there, trying rapidly to figure out what music was still unpopular enough to enjoy. When I arrived at Mizzou in 2006 I had a lot of conversations that went, in their entirety, like this, and ended with a frantic ourTunes run:

Cool Guy: Hey, I heard Sufjan has a new album coming out. It's probably going to be okay, but I preferred Michigan.

Me: Yeah, Sue Fionn, she's great. How do you spell that?

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