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? 4. OiNK--2004-2007 While we plebes inadvertently installed Bonzi Buddy over and over looking for mislabeled Weird Al songs, more serious music fans took to invite-only BitTorrent trackers, where weird cult-like dynamics prevail in the overall aesthetic and every album is available in a million different combinations of regional bonus track, bitrate, and file-type. If Napster blew up the album, these people--who would be happy to get you the Japanese version of Rush's Roll the Bones in FLAC--are busy trying to put it back together, and will ban you if you fail to do the same.

Oink's Pink Palace is long gone, but these trackers are still out there--unfortunately, the only thing more of a faux pas in the private tracker community than ripping your music at 128kbps is actually mentioning a working private tracker.

5. Google After foiling a decade of increasingly exotic file-sharing methods--of torrenting and program-downloading and private meeting--the RIAA has finally found itself unable to stop the biggest piracy enabler of them all: Google's suggestion box. Type in any album name and you're liable to get something that at least purports to be a ZIP file of same. What's weird is how eager the suggestion box is to do it--it would love to autocomplete "rihanna single mp3 download illegal" for you.

It's almost too easy--piracy is supposed to look like 19-year-old hackers and pop-up ads advertising horny-mom webcams and home-brewed programs that crash all the time, not like the most widely trafficked website there is. It's a little like an otherwise-reputable pharmacist who hears you mention Vicodin and says, before you can get your prescription out of your coat pocket, "Oh--well, you're going to have to meet me out in the parking lot, okay? And this might be meth, actually, but it says Vicodin, are you a cop, nah, it doesn't matter, give me like ten minutes, okay?"

Megaupload's shutdown leaves a gap in those sketchy search results, but I'm sure a million other sleazy shell companies incorporated in the Principality of Sealand will be happy to oblige Google's laziest music consumers over the next few days. Just wait 30 seconds to download. 29 28 27 26


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