Woe be to Grokster! In case you missed the story late yesterday, the download site is no more. Pummeled by major media companies — to say nothing of the Supreme Court — Grokster is paying a $50 million fine, and its homepage now says, “There are legal services for downloading music and movies. This service is not one of them.”
I’m sure that’s not the line for which they would like to be remembered. They promise to return soon — new, safe, and… legal.
Legal? When Napster et al appeared in the public consciousness five years ago, it was just a bunch of college kids sharing their CDs, right? The big music companies were just being paranoid, weren’t they? They beat them into the ground.
But the Groksters of the world — pirates, in the view of the music companies — were perhaps the greatest example of a disruptive technology since the advent of the web browser. People will never again buy music quite the way they used to. You can still go to a store and buy a “record,” but no longer are you stuck paying fifteen dollars for a CD when there’s only one three-minute track on it you really want. You don’t even necessarily buy a physical thing — just a digital file.
Much of this might well have happened, but not as quickly or traumatically for the industry if it hadn’t been for illegal file-sharing. Hardly to glorify them, but they did change the world.