But the flurry of activity was muted when an appeals court issued a stay on the injunction shortly before the end of its business day, allowing Napster to leave its service open.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel granted a request from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for an injunction against Napster. The RIAA sued the start-up last year, alleging massive copyright violations.
News of the injunction has sparked talk of RIAA boycotts, as fans of free music bemoan the giant music companies that would rather they pay for CDs and tapes. The injunction has also sparked pleas from Napster for "buy-cotts," in which people purchase CDs or tapes of pro-Napster artists to show that free downloads eventually translate into profit for musicians.
But beyond such movements, news of the injunction seems to have sparked a panic among dedicated Napsterphiles, many of whom will be frantically downloading free music until the possible closure. Many see the twilight hours before the injunction as a requiem and rallying cry for free online music.
"I have been downloading as many MP3 files as possible before my favorite Web site goes down," said Walter Wessell, a 42-year-old safety manager from Baytown, Texas, who called Napster "the best thing that's happened to music since the Victrola." Wessell has been downloading three files at a time for a total of 157 songs in the past day.
"I have my friends doing the same at their homes. Each of them has a couple of people doing it," Wessell said. "The goal is to be able to share some of the songs we like and haven't heard in a long time."
Dustin Harrier, a 15-year-old Wisconsin resident who has downloaded more than 300 songs, plans to tap Napster continually until midnight.
"I've gotten so much out of Napster already, I figure in the next 36 hours I should try to get that extra little bit," he said. "I'm going to download everything I can, mostly rock and techno...There is no way they can stop us. Information moves far too fast, and everyday there is some Web site out there."
Although the Napster injunction was issued in a courtroom in San Francisco, public appeal has been international. The Internet connects people around the world, but some say Napster in particular serves as a sort of musical diaspora that familiarizes people with faraway cultures or esoteric niches within their own cultures.
"I'm mainly downloading music that I will not get in the U.S.," said 35-year-old American Ajit Abhyankar. "Artists like Asian Dub Foundations, Passi, Khaled, Angelique Kidjo have little or no following in the States. These artists have little or no chance of getting radio airplay nor will their CDs be available in local stores."
Pierre-Michel Fortin, a Francophone from Toronto, didn't want to take sides with Napster or with the record industry. But if the site is shuttered, Fortin said, he will miss out on a variety of hard-to-find music.
"It was mainly stuff that I couldn't get anywhere else," Fortin said of his favorite Napster downloads. "I'm not talking about Britney Spears or other commercial things like that, but songs of the eighties that were not available anymore.
"Try to find an album of Dissendenten or The Residents in any record store. But they were on Napster!" he added. Dissendenten is a German trio that performs mostly Middle East fusion. The highly obscure The Residents, allegedly founded in Shreveport, La., before moving to San Francisco, blend bizarre reconstructions of '60s pop with original material.
The hard drive of Moshe Cohen has been receiving a flurry of Napster downloads since yesterday, when the 24-year-old Israeli heard about the injunction. Before Wednesday, he had downloaded only 105 songs. Since then, he has downloaded dozens of songs from the Pet Shop Boys, St. Etienne, Depeche Mode and The Cranberries as well as dance tunes.
"I plan to download lots of songs until Napster is shut down," Cohen wrote via email. "This a sad day for me."
Pasi Rupponen, a 28-year-old telecommunications consultant from Finland, has downloaded more than 600 songs from Napster. He plans to commemorate one of his favorite sites tonight in front of the computer with a bottle of Scandinavian beer.
Rupponen was one of the numerous Napster members contacted by CNET News.com who expressed anger and disappointment toward Metallica, an early opponent of Napster that has also sued the company for online piracy. In May, the heavy metal band brought a list of more than 317,000 Napster usernames to the company, alleging that each of those individuals had illegally made the band's songs available for copying online.
"My downloads will be a show of anger and disappointment towards the music industry," Rupponen said. "I will be downloading a hefty amount of Metallica."
The news also hit home in New England, where Napster inventor Shawn Fanning had been attending Northeastern University. Josh Garland, a 23-year-old public relations specialist in Boston, left work yesterday and began downloading. He'll likely repeat the ritual tonight.
"I'm going to miss it, that's for sure," said Garland, who attaches his personal computer to a stereo in a "digital jukebox" configuration perfect for party-music mixing. "It was the best."
Based on the furious freeloading of many Napster fans, the injunction is likely to spur interest in numerous other sites that offer in file sharing, also known as peer-to-peer e-commerce.
The most popular Napster alternatives are Scour.net and Gnutella, both of which have been experiencing significant delays because of system overloads.
They aren't alone. James Lyons wanted to spend time downloading from Napster today, but the 22-year-old computer science major at the University of Pennsylvania couldn't get into the site.
"The Napster servers have been very, very busy ever since the injunction was announced," he lamented. "So I've been spending my time with Gnutella, trying to learn its ways."
Not every Napster member was making a mad rush to a computer to download before the site closed. Paul Cooper, a self-employed carpet and floor maintenance specialist in Missouri, has downloaded about 100 songs from Napster, but he won't be returning for more tonight.
"I don't plan on spending Napster's remaining time downloading as much music as I can before it's all over," the 32-year-old said. "Anyone that is doing this needs a life. Some of my friends, however, are in need of professional help. They are treating this in the same fashion a lot of people treated the coming of this century."