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Napster gets merged with Rhapsody

Napster, the pioneering file-sharing service, which launched in 1999, officially became part of Rhapsody, after it was sold to the rival music service by its parent company BestBuy, for an undisclosed sum last month.

business Updated: Dec 03, 2011 15:42 IST

The name Napster conjures up the good old days of the Internet. Back when downloading a song on the web was akin to using your old dual cassette deck to dub a copy of "Use Your Illusion" or recording the top 40 countdowns from Rick Dees on a Sunday to have the hottest songs in the nation. Napster broke the file-sharing mould by making the process incredibly easy for even a casual computer user. It ushered in the age of middle-aged women being able to download "Hangin' Tough" by the New Kids on the Block then share it to all her book club friends. With that kind of widespread sharing, the music industry took notice, and took people to court.

The history of Napster is well known, so there is no need to rehash it here, it's enough to say that Napster made it possible for things like BitTorrent and other P2P protocols to gain a sufficient enough foothold to start the debate on intellectual property rights. That debate was the source of the service's demise, as lawsuits and judgments piled up making it impossible to stay in business.

Napster the software debuted in 1998, but was jumped upon by the music industry - in particular by its militant wing, the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) - and closed down by a US appeals court judge in 2001.

The following year, its assets were acquired by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, but the reformed company quickly collapsed into bankruptcy.

Porn company Private Media Group briefly acquired the name, but the moniker and the software eventually ended up in the hands of software firm Roxio, in November 2002. Roxio went on, in May 2003, to buy PressPlay, a music subscription service started by Sony and Universal, and eventually relaunched it as Napster.

But its decision to offer music for rent rather than sale - subscribe and download as many tracks as you like, but they'll stop playing if you stop paying - proved a lot less popular than Apple's buy-and-download model.

Napster hobbled on, launching internationally in 2004, before being acquired by US retail giant Best Buy in September 2008 for a mere $121m.

Rhapsody - itself a music rental service, founded by erstwhile Apple rival Real Networks - bought Napster off Best Buy last month. Given the death of the name, Rhapsody clearly acquired Napster for its customer list, not its brand.

The $121 million investment made by the big box store never panned out either, which forced the sale of the property to Rhapsody, one of the internet's oldest music services.

Naspter

Unless Rhapsody was able to get a fire sale price on the defunct service, this deal seems bizarre, to say the least. With services like Spotify and MOG, as well as online stores from heavy hitters Apple, Amazon, and Google, how does this acquisition position Rhapsody to be more competitive? The answer of course is that it doesn't. While Rhapsody flounders around looking for a method to "go big or go home" to use its words, the nature of the market is evolving fast enough to leave it in the dust. With Amazon's Cloud Drive and Google Music being available to all, there is a stark line between renting and owning digital music.

Whether or not this merger is going to be successful remains to be seen, but I can't imagine that its going to excite consumers so much that they will be flocking to sign up. Where Napster was once the name in online music, today it looks like nothing more than a diseased husk that is being handed around to the next guy to deal with.