Classic Copyright Cases – Napster

Written by | January 27, 2021


Now this is an important one, folks. I am sure that most of you have heard of Napster but, for those who have not, here is a brief history:

In 1999, Shawn Fanning created a rudimental peer-to-peer file sharing application called Napster which allowed users to share primarily music encoded in mp3 format via the internet. Users could download files on various computers that were connected to the service with their own files being shared in return.

This, however, constituted copyright infringement. The particular concern here was the scale of it – if everyone could so easily share and obtain music for free online then there would never be any need to actually pay for it.

One band in particular decided to step up to the plate: Metallica. A leaked version of their song I Disappear from the Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack somehow found its way onto Napster and then onto the radio before it had been officially released. Metallica did not take kindly to this at all and issued legal proceedings against Napster. Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer and co-founder, became the poster boy for fighting against the free sharing of music online.

The problem for Metallica was that millions of people had taken a liking to Napster and Metallica went from being perceived as non-conformist heavy metal legends to record industry fat cats who were more concerned about the money than the music.

Napster lost the legal battle in the end – unsurprisingly – and the Judge issued an injunction essentially obliging Napster to remove and prevent any of Metallica’s music from being shared on its platform. Napster tried to comply with the injunction by using a filter system but it ultimately failed to satisfy the Court. This led to Napster shutting down and settling with Metallica in July 2001 and eventually filing for bankruptcy in June 2002.

However, this only marked the beginning of the bitter rivalry between the internet and the music industry which still continues to this day.

As always, our copyright solicitors and music lovers here at Briffa are always on hand to help with all things music, be it contracts, claims or even just a free chat about what’s what. Please do not hesitate to contact us at or on 020 7096 2779 for a free consultation.

Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor


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