Pre-Napster: The Paleo-swapping years
Before there were modern peer-to-peer services, files were routinely traded through Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, Usenet newsgroups and FTP servers. MP3 sites such as Ministry of Sound and Mighty Mo's MP3s offered downloads from Web sites. A handful of early software applications, such as Scour Media Agent and Hotline offered rudimentary peer-to-peer capabilities.
Recording industry lawyers and other copyright authorities routinely targeted hubs of online copyright infringement, but the actions, taking place under the mainstream radar, drew little public attention.
IRC, FTP, Usenet, Blex's Page of Good MP3s
June 1997--RIAA filed lawsuits against three MP3 download site operators.
October 1998--RIAA over release of MP3 player.
February 1999--Lycos Web music search tool; RIAA threatened lawsuit.
First generation: Napster and the mainstream
Napster changed the music business in the space of months. Released as a beta program in the spring of 1999 by college student Shawn Fanning, it allowed millions of people to link their hard drives into a collective pool of downloadable free music.
Fanning's software and its immediate followers were based on a centralized technology,
Most of these companies went offline or changed their business model after being sued by the RIAA.
Napster, Scour Exchange, Audio Galaxy, iMesh (original), Aimster
Spring 1999--Napster beta program released.
December 1999--RIAA sued Napster.
July 2000--RIAA .
July 2000--San Francisco federal court to stop music-swapping.
February 2001--An appeals court upheld Napster order; company started blocking swaps soon afterward.
Second generation: Decentralization and legal reversals
Repeated lawsuits and technological glitches highlighted weaknesses in Napster's centralized model. In response, a new generation of developers created networks without Napster's central servers.
Under this new model, a first computer would connect to another in the network, and ask it for a file. That second computer would ask a third, which would in turn ask a fourth, and so on until the file was found.
These decentralized models made the networks stronger, because--in theory--they could survive the failure of their parent company. They also provided some legal shield, because companies could argue that they had no direct control over or knowledge of illegal activity on the networks.
Gnutella (including LimeWire, Bearshare, and later Morpheus), Kazaa, Grokster
March 2000--AOL subsidiary Nullsoft without corporate approval.
October 2001--RIAA Kazaa, Grokster and MusicCity (now StreamCast Networks).
February 2002--Millions of Morpheus users of Kazaa's network overnight.
April 2003--Los Angeles court ruled Grokster for users' copyright infringement.
September 2003--RIAA against individual file-swappers.
August 2004--Appeals court Los Angeles Grokster ruling.
June 2005--Supreme Court ruled on Grokster's legality.
Today's swappers: Torrents of video
Driven by faster Net connections and other technological advances, swappers are increasingly trading movies, software and games online. File-swapping tools are adapting in turn.
Most recent developments have focused on improving the efficiency of large file downloads and expanding search features, while retaining a decentralized model. Some networks have sought to improve privacy, but without reaching perfect anonymity.
By this time, no single network dominates as Napster did in the first generation and Kazaa did through much of the second generation. Millions of people can be found on swapping networks at any given hour of the day, with people using different tools for different kinds of content.
BitTorrent, eDonkey/eMule, Exeem
February 2002--Bram Cohen at CodeCon 2002.
July 2004--BitTorrent swaps accounted for of all Internet traffic, company said.
October 2004--eDonkey as top file-swapping network.
December 2004--MPAA on BitTorrent hubs.