The chapter titled “The Gray Area of Music Trading” in Brad Hill’s book The Digital Songstream: Mastering the World of Digital Music gives a brief history of file-sharing which is a good background to understanding the Grokster decision. Hill traces the roots of digital music to the CD in 1982 and then to online file-sharing before the MP3 became big in 1997 when programs like Winamp made it easy to playback music on people’s personal computers. Hill talks a lot about Napster and how the main innovation that Napster made was its interface which was extremely easy to use and did not require much knowledge about computers. The court decision that led to Napster’s demise as a free downloading service did not end the problem of illegal file-sharing as the courts had hoped but rather dispersed it to several new up and coming companies all with slightly different ways of presenting the files in order to bypass the laws that made Napster’s service illegal.
Hill goes into the companies that followed in the immediate demise of Napster. Gnutella was one of the first companies of the new era of file-sharing that linked users in an unidentifiable network so as making it impossible to trace files. He briefly talks about other companies like Aimster, Kazaa and Morpheus as well. Without getting too technical about the different ways in which programs have been set up to bypass what lead to Napster being shut down, it is important to understand the history of file-sharing and how it has evolved over time. Since the Napster decision, different companies have tried to set up programs that can enable users to trade files without being able to hold the company accountable. The Grokster decision has made companies potentially liable regardless of how their service is set up.