What began as an illegal activity just over a decade ago has become the most popular way to purchase recorded music. Since the introduction of the MP3 file format, downloading has displaced CDs--introduced in the 1980s--as the favored means of purchasing and collecting music.
Downloading music began as peer-to-peer, or p2p, sharing, which allowed different people to trade music files among themselves, ignoring the legal rights that recording artists retain to the music they create.
Napster was the first p2p network devoted to sharing music files. It provided a place in which music fans around the world could upload their music collections and swap songs. However, in doing this, listeners ignored copyright protections, making the activity illegal.
The recording industry, as well as some prominent recording artists, contended that illegally downloading music had a negative impact on the music industry by preventing artists and record companies from recouping the costs of producing music.
The American heavy metal band Metallica was among the most vocal opponents of illegal downloading. The group was among the first to file suit against Napster.
As illegal downloading grew even more popular, the recording industry began filing lawsuits. One of these led to the shutdown of Napster, which was ordered to pay millions in restitution.
Since the shutdown of Napster, legal avenues were developed by which fans could purchase and download music over the Internet. Popular sites include Apple's iTunes store, amazon.com, emusic.com and even Napster, which has emerged as a legal download service under a new owner and operator.
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.