Remembering Limewire, My Introduction to Downloading Music Online
By the bedside sits a bag full of old compact discs, an early inheritance passed down from my father. On the very top is Makaveli hanging from the cross—bold, black, beautiful, yet gut-wrenching. Underneath him lies albums from Wu-Tang, Slick Rick, MC Lyte, Foxy Brown, Snoop, Jay Z and other notable names from the late '90s and the early 2000s. I can almost imagine my father walking into Best Buy or f.y.e., or some small record shop and spending his hard earned Washingtons, Lincolns, and Hamiltons on all this rap music.
I think about how different our experience with music is, especially since some of the very CDs he has gifted me I’ve heard but never physically touched. He comes from an age of physical CDs, and I’m from the generation of .mp3s. He’s a saint who paid for his music, and I’m a dirty pirate who sailed the internet downloading. He had to leave home to obtain his music, while music reached me by the way of Limewire.
Limewire: the wrong that felt so right.
It was around 2004—I was no older than 13—that my life revolved around school, the radio, the internet, Toonami and Rap City. I don’t remember how we met, or what caused our paths to cross, but it was love at first click. One download and life changed forever; it was the introduction to a new reality. Some doors you walk through and never return. Limewire was that door, and there was no going back. Limewire was the definition of simplicity, there was nothing complicated about the software. With no prior knowledge of file sharing, without knowing what peer-to-peer meant and with no real understanding of copyright infringement, I was able to acquire almost any song that came to mind. Just by typing in a title, the files were able to be obtained. My fingers were set ablaze, my mind was racing; I felt like a caveman that just discovered fire. For a kid with a love for music but no money to purchase albums, it was like a cheat code for infinite albums; Limewire didn’t bring Christmas early, it gave me Santa’s entire gift bag at my fingertips.
What really made Limewire special was the ability to discover. I could type in Lil Wayne's name in search of “Go DJ” and also stumble upon underground music from The Suffix, The Prefix, and all of the Sqad Up mixtapes. The first time I heard Wayne rap over “Ether,” “Best Of Me” and “Moment Of Clarity” were all due to curiosity. It was during a Dipset search that I found Roc-A-Fella’s version of Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” Dame’s boasting and bragging, Kanye’s strong verse, Beanie’s Hulk-esque aggression (the tone of his voice when he cuts off Dame showed me that he was a man to be feared), Twista closing with the rapid-fire flow; all things that made it a favorite posse cut. Countless unheard remixes, freestyles, mixtapes and underground releases made Limewire something to spend hours on. It was like a library with shelves of .mp3s instead of books, and I was hungry to hear all that I could. Albums were still bought—50’s Get Rich Or Die Trying, Game’s The Documentary, Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 101 and Wayne’s Tha Carter II were all purchased. Some albums you had to have.
Limewire wasn’t all Eden; there were plenty of snakes in the grass. It was the cause of my first, second and third computer viruses. Each time was like getting food poisoning from your favorite restaurant―after all the vomiting, after swearing to never go back, you still end up walking through the doors again asking for a seat by the window. The bad never outweighed the good.
I find it funny how one of the biggest presidential scandals of all time is associated with viruses and Limewire. Everyone loathed downloading a song they really wanted, and being greeted by the voice of Bill Clinton confessing he didn’t have sexual relations with that woman. It was a lesson on being aware of file sizes and how not everything that glittered truly wasn’t gold. Music, movies, videos, porn―it was all there, it was all accessible, and then it was gone. It only took a few good lawyers and four years of war in the courtroom to bring down one of the most popular file sharing websites. The Guardian reported at the time of termination, over 50 million users were sharing copyrighted files.
In May, Wood found LimeWire liable for widespread copyright infringement. The level of damages faced by the site's New York-based parent company, Lime Group, will be decided in January 2011.The RIAA said LimeWire has cost the music industry hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. According RIAA figures, US recorded music sales fell to $7.7bn in 2009 from $14.5bn in 1999. The rise to prominence of peer-to-peer filesharing networks is singled out as a primary factor for this decline by the RIAA. The site's popularity is reflected in a survey by NDP Group, which found that LimeWire was used by 58% of people who have downloaded music from a peer-to-peer network in the year from May 2009. - LimeWire Shut Down By Federal Court
Limewire might’ve been a gift for the kids growing up on the internet—truly our gateway drug into music—but it was a curse to the music industry. I wasn’t aware of how my method of acquiring music was changing the entire infrastructure of a once-thriving system. The music wasn’t free; a lot of people were paying for it. Limewire wasn’t the first file sharing service to impact the music industry, it was just one of many.
The true forefather that caused a huge ruckus for peer-to-peer music sharing was Napster. One of the biggest, most impactful moments in the internet era was the launch of Napster, a music service that was the big bad wolf that blew the music industry's comfortable house down. Two teenagers, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, created a program that made downloading music easier than it had ever been at the time. Launched in 1999 and closed in 2001, with over 50 million users downloading millions of songs in-between. Every revolution begins with a small fire that will eventually engulf the old regime, and Napster was that flame. I wasn’t a user—it came and went before a computer was in my household—but millions will never forget. The beginning of album sales dropping, the birth of music being free, and all the other repercussions that came with these two changes cannot be understated.
By now the heads of the major record labels had gathered for a summit. In the Washington offices of the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), execs were encouraged to play a game that was informally called Stump the Napster – in other words, try to find at least one of their new singles that wasn't being shared online. All were appropriately horrified and an action was launched against Napster for breach of copyright. The first year of the new millennium was the first to register a dip in global record sales. That scared the labels, and before long individual Napster users were being sued too, some 18,000 all told. Alex Winter told me he met a woman, in the course of making his documentary, who over a decade later was still embroiled in a multi-million-dollar action. She'd once used Napster to download 26 songs - Napster: the day the music was set free
Limewire was doomed from the start. It was destined to follow in the same footsteps as Napster. I remember similar, alternative programs born from the demise, but none of them came close to seizing the attention of the masses. The end of Limewire was like the neighborhood kid that had all the Playstation games being forced to move away, and you’re left playing Crazy Taxi when just last week you were shooting cops on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Napster and Limewire were unjust, against the law, and played a major role in bringing the music industry into its darkest period. They took away music as a product and made it our birthright. We were born in this era, and this was our reward. It was wrong, but it felt so right. Downloading music became second nature; what they called piracy became more like breathing to us. All the millions lost, all the lawsuits, all the lives changed; it was all because of the internet.
It was more than just Limewire throughout the years. I lost count of all the albums and mixtapes downloaded thanks to Megaupload, Rapidshare, Sendspace, and Mediafire. They were the file storage systems that I’ll always relate to the golden blog era. If you were changing your IP address just so you wouldn’t have to wait for the download limit, I tip my hat. When Megaupload was shut down, it was like going to a bar and finding out the friend that gives you all the free drinks was fired for giving out free drinks. Zshare, Bearshare, Hulkshare, Kazaa, Imeem, Frostwire, Demonoid, Piratebay, Isohunt or Mininova...the list goes on. They brought us music, movies, and viruses, and if you were raised on the internet, you are familiar with at least one of these services.
It’s hard to fix my lips to speak harshly of the current era of streaming without thinking of how we got here. We got here because of Napster, Limewire and all the music that wasn’t bought. The monthly fees we pay today are the cost of years sneaking into Heaven through the backdoor. I have a lot of streaming to do to cleanse my pirate soul for all that I indirectly took. Funny how one man’s dream was an entire industry's nightmare. That’s the power of change, it affects everyone differently. My father will be turning 50 in a few days. He still plays his CDs that he has left over, and doesn’t care for the streaming services or the streaming war. By the time I’m 50, who knows where the music industry will be? As long as I can pass down my fire 2016 Apple Music playlist to my son, I probably won’t care at 50 either.
Long live Napster. Long live Limewire. They brought both the apocalypse and the rebirth, the beginning, and ending of an age.
May the Gods bless Zippyshare with another 100 years.
By Yoh, aka Yohwire, aka @Yoh31.