MP3@25: 6 – MP3 Timeline

MP3@25 | 1: Tom’s Diner | 2: Napster | 3: iMP3 | 4: At the Movies | 5: Legacy | 6: Timeline | 7: Gift Shop

Historical Timeline of the MP3

Part One: 1978 – 2001


The Beatles vs Apple Computer

Apple Corps, the company in charge of The BeatlesApple Records label, sues a new technology startup company in California named Apple Computer for trademark infringement due to its name and (second) logo: a rainbow-coloured, stripy silhouette of an apple with a bite taken out, which is just a tad too close to Apple Records’ logo for the Beatles to take lying down.

A copy of The BeatlesAbbey Road album on 12″ vinyl, featuring the Apple Records logo.


Kane Kramer’s 1979 sketch of the IXI digital music player

At the age of 23, British ‘serial inventor’ Kane Kramer designs the ‘IXI System’ for digitising, and copy-protecting, music. The system includes a credit card-sized portable audio player. Kramer’s friend James Campbell, 21, builds a series of working prototypes, one of which Kramer will later claim went on sale at an electronics expo in Earl’s Court, London. The prototype can hold 3.5 minutes of digital music, but Kramer is convinced that a way will be found eventually to increase its storage capacity. He patents the device.


Apple Computer is warned off entering the music business by The Beatles. Artist’s impression by Museum of Portable Sound staff.

As part of an out-of-court settlement, Apple Computer agrees to never enter the music business, while The Beatles’ Apple Corps agrees to never enter the computer business.



Apple Computer adds MIDI and an Ensoniq 5503 DOC sound chip into their new line of computers. Apple Corps sues them again for violating their 1981 settlement.


Karlheinz Brandenburg begins research into audio compression at the Fraunhofer Institute (Fraunhofer IIS). His PhD thesis will become instrumental in the MP3’s development. A development team is put in place.

The Fraunhofer audio compression team circa 1987. From left: Harald Popp, Stefan Krägeloh, Hartmut Schott, Bernhard Grill, Heinz Gerhäuser, Ernst Eberlein, Karlheinz Brandenburg, and Thomas Sporer. Brandenburg, sporting headphones and an unfashionable sweater, will go from socially awkward engineer to ambitiously cutthroat businessman in less than a decade.


The Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) is founded by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). Formal plans are drawn up to begin working on standards for the delivery of digital audio and video. A ‘layer’ system is implemented which allows for competing standards to be adopted simultaneously, so that multiple companies and research centres are able to participate in the overall project and maintain their independence while still contributing to worldwide standards.

Fraunhofer IIS logo

Fraunhofer IIS is assigned to one of the working groups to begin developing codecs for the compression and delivery of digital audio and video.

• Brandenburg’s team at Fraunhofer receive the first paying customer for the technology that will eventually become the MPS: a radio station on the tiny Micronesian island of Saipan.


Karlheinz Brandenburg completes his PhD thesis on the OCF algorithm (Optimum Coding in the Frequency Domain) which, according the the Fraunhofer website, is ‘a codec exhibiting a number of characteristics of the eventual mp3 technology, like a high frequency resolution filter bank, non-uniform quantization, Huffman coding, and its side information structure.’ He is also awarded a German patent for the audio compression technology that will become the MP3.


Apple Computer settles their second lawsuit with The Beatles out of court, once again agreeing to stop meddling in the music business.


June 1990

MPEG holds a listening contest in Stockholm of the technologies currently being developed that are competing to become the new MPEG digital audio compression standard. Fourteen different groups are tested. According to Stephen Witt, the contest’s test material includes:

…an Ornette Coleman solo, the Tracy Chapman song “Fast Car,” a trumpet solo, a glockenspiel, a recording of fireworks, two separate bass solos, a ten-second castanet sample, a snippet of a newscast, and a recording of Suzanne Vega performing “Tom’s Diner.”

The contest ends in a tie between MUSICAM (a project run by Philips, the company who invented the Compact Cassette and Compact Disc) and Fraunhofer. The two research teams will become bitter rivals.

MPEG will conduct internal deliberations and announce a final winner the following year.

24 July 1990

The original cover of Banned in the U.S.A. sporting the original version of the Parental Advisory sticker.

The hip hop album Banned in the U.S.A. by 2 Live Crew is released, the first Compact Disc labelled with the official RIAA Parental Advisory sticker warning of explicit content.


Apple Computer settles their second lawsuit with The Beatles out of court, once again agreeing to stop meddling in the music business.



Apple Computer includes a sampled sound effect (which is eventually renamed ‘sosumi’) in their system software upgrade. Apple Corps sues them again.


Apple Computer once again settles out of court. This time, the nature of their agreement is laid out in more detail to try to avoid any future entanglements. According to Cnet:

the Beatles were given the right to use the Apple name wherever their songs were involved and on “any current or future creative works whose principal content is music.” However, Apple Computer was allowed to use its brand on “goods or services…used to reproduce, run, play or otherwise deliver such content,” as long as it was not on physical media such as a CD.

April 1991

MPEG announces the results of their listening contest: they will not sponsor one, but three new digital audio standards:

MPEG Layer 1 – a standard used for digital audio cassettes, which almost immediately becomes obsolete;

MPEG Layer 2MUSICAM‘s compression method, which becomes known as ‘mp2‘, is assigned by the MPEG group to become the standard used for digital FM radio, interactive CD-ROMs, VCDs, and HDTV broadcasts;

MPEG Layer 3Fraunhofer‘s compression method. MPEG refuse to assign them any technologies.

From this point on, Fraunhofer and MUSICAM begin courting the same potential customers in an attempt to become the dominant audio compression standard.


Interscope, a record label co-founded by U2/Bruce Springsteen/John Lennon producer Jimmy Iovine in Westwood, California whose first release was the Gerardo single Rico Suave (December 1990), pays US$10 million to Dr Dre and Suge Knight to finance and distribute recordings created by their label Death Row Records. Via a web of overlapping ownership agreements, Interscope is half-owned by Warner Music Group, one of the world’s biggest record companies.

Sony develops its proprietary Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding (ATRAC) digital audio compression technology. ATRAC’s original 292 kbit/s bitrate, is designed to be acoustically close to CD quality. It will become a key component of its MiniDisc format, allowing 74 minutes of CD-quality audio to fit onto a disc less than half the size of a standard Compact Disc.


The MPEG-1 standard for compressing audio and video, the first output of the MPEG working groups, is released to the public. It has been optimised to provide ‘CD-quality’ sound in audio files encoded to play at a bitrate of 128kbps – the current maximum bandwidth of ISDN high-speed network connections when Fraunhofer began working on the MP3.

Jeff Patterson and Rob Lord, the founders of the Internet Underground Music Archive.

In Santa Cruz, California, Jeff Patterson and Rob Lord launch the Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA), a website dedicated to chronicling – and compiling – music from outside the mainstream. Originally a free service, it will eventually become the first digital music store.

The staff’s uncompromising attitude towards running the business as an extension of their own personal tastes will eventually lead to the financial failure of the business.

The original homepage of the Internet Underground Music Archive, widely considered to be the world’s first digital music store.


MPEG audio layer III – the audio compression standard that will become the MP3 – is released to the public.

Screenshot of L3enc, the first software able to encode MPEG layer audio III, which will become the MP3.

7 July 1994
Fraunhofer releases L3enc, the first software able to encode .WAV audio files into .MP3 format; for its first year, it uses the placeholder file extension ‘.BIT‘ until a suitable extension name can be agreed upon.

• October 1994
Fraunhofer is granted a meeting with executives at the Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), one of the world’s ‘Big Six’ music labels, where they pitch MPEG Layer 3. They are politely escorted from the room and BMG never follows up.

Harald Popp, an engineer at Fraunhofer who has been put in charge of sales, commissions the production of several dedicated MP3-encoding chips. Popp asks another engineer to rig one of the chips up with a circuit board, an early prototype flash memory card, and a headphone jack to create the world’s first portable MP3 player.

The world’s first portable MP3 player, built under the direction of Harald Popp at Fraunhofer.

Popp begins using the ramshackle device to demonstrate their audio compression system to potential customers at trade shows. It generates no interest. At a show in Paris, an executive from rival company Philips tells Fraunhofer’s Bernhard Grill:

‘there will never be a commercial [MP3] player.’

Popp does not patent his portable player idea – the Fraunhofer engineering team decides a portable MP3 player would merely be an uninteresting storage device rather than a practical application of their technology.

Sad trombone.


Frustrated by what feels like impending doom for MPEG Layer 3, Brandenburg orders his engineers at Fraunhofer to begin developing a replacement for MP3. The MPEG group had ordered Fraunhofer to include MUSICAM’s unwieldy filter banks in Layer 3’s workflow – which effectively slowed encoding times significantly for no reason, giving MUSICAM’s mp2 a speed advantage. Brandenburg’s new Layer 3 replacement will not include the MUSICAM filters and therefore should not only be more advanced than MP3, but also significantly faster.

Dell Glover in a photo-illustration that appeared in The New Yorker, 2015.

Benny Lydell ‘Dell’ Glover begins working a temp job at the PolyGram compact disc manufacturing plant in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, US. Before he can begin his first shift on the factory floor shrink-wrapping CDs, he is presented with a ‘No Theft Tolerated’ agreement which he is asked to sign, date, and initial. He does, begins his shift, and immediately begins trying to secure a permanent full-time position in the plant – since the full-time pay increase would help him pursue one of his passions in life: home computers.

Bob Dole on the cover of TIME magazine shortly after his crusade against gangsta rap began, 1995.

May 1995
US Republican Senator (and upcoming presidential election frontrunner) Bob Dole ignites a nationwide controversy over ‘gangsta rap’, which he suggests glorifies violence and the denigration of women. The music at the centre of this controversy’s distributor? Death Row Records.

• June 1995
Doug Morris, best friend of Interscope Records’ Jimmy Iovine and North American Head of Warner Music Group, is fired. Due to the US political gangsta rap controversy, the board of Time Warner Inc (who own Warner Music Group) decide Interscope – and Death Row Records in particular – are more trouble than they are worth to hold onto, even though they are responsible for the top five albums in the US charts at the time, and Morris is cut loose as a sacrificial lamb.

Doug Morris (far right) in happier times with (L-R): Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine, ‘Rico Suave‘ artist Gerardo, and record executive Sylvia Rhone.

14 July 1995
Following a vote conducted via intra-office e-mail, the engineers at Fraunhofer IIS who worked on MPEG audio layer III decide upon ‘.MP3‘ as the name for their codec’s file format. It beats out prior contenders including the aforementioned ‘.bit‘ and ‘.son‘.

The historic email which gave birth to the name ‘MP3‘.

The MP3 as we know it has now been born.

Fraunhofer‘s attempt at an ‘official’ MP3 logo

July 1995
Doug Morris is hired by the Seagram beverage company to attempt to resuscitate its recently-acquired MCA Music Entertainment Group. He is put in charge of one of MCA’s divisions.

In 1995, Seagram was best known in the US as the company that momentarily fulfilled Bruce Willis’ musical ambitions in the 1980s by making him the spokesperson for its wine cooler products. Then run by the son of its founder, Seagram had begun diversifying by purchasing the floundering MCA Music Entertainment Group.

• Summer 1995
Still working at the PolyGram plant, Dell Glover is invited to a weekend house party by one of the plant’s machine technicians.

During the party, Glover realises the DJ is playing unreleased music that has somehow been smuggled out of the plant.

• September 1995
At Fraunhofer, Bernhard Grill single-handedly creates WinPlay3, the first real-time MP3 software player (referred to as ‘real-time’ because it does not require de-compressing the MP3 file before playing it). Like L3Enc, it also is small enough to fit on a single floppy disc. It is distributed as unlockable shareware. It generates no income.

The user interface of WinPlay3, the world’s first real-time MP3 playing software.

Doug Morris is promoted to head of MCA records.

Doug Morris is once again in full control of a major record label – but can he keep the hits coming?


Fraunhofer receives a United States patent for the MP3.

A Philips home CD burner circa 1990s.

Dell Glover secures permanent full-time employment at the PolyGram CD plant. He shrink wraps CDs and is occasionally asked to hand-apply Parental Advisory stickers on ‘obscene’ CD releases. The technician whose house party Glover attended the previous summer is fired, and significantly tighter security measures are implemented at the plant. Somehow music is still being smuggled out of the plant, as Glover finds bootleg CD-Rs of unreleased music from the plant for sale at local thrift stores.

With his increased full-time salary, Glover invests in a newly-released US$600 CD burner sold by Philips, one of the first to hit the home consumer market.

Shawn Fanning (left) and Sean Parker three years after they first met online.

• 15 year-old Sean Parker meets 14 year-old Shawn Fanning online. They discover they have mutual interests in theoretical physics and hacking, becoming fast friends.

• February 1996
Doug Morris purchases his friend Jimmy Iovine‘s label Interscope Records for MCA. The cost: US$200 million.

Macromedia licenses MP3 encoding for audio streaming in its Flash software. Microsoft licenses MP3 encoding for the audio streaming portion of Windows Media Player. Yet it is not enough revenue for Fraunhofer to justify continuing to support MP3 technology, and the decision is made to discontinue MP3 in favour of AAC.

Macromedia Flash and Windows Media Player become MP3 clients just in the nick of time for Fraunhofer.

• Autumn
Dell Glover becomes one of the first local customers in his neighbourhood to have Hughes Network Systems DirecPC™ satellite broadband installed in his home. The state of the World Wide Web at the time bores Glover, who had been an early adopter of home computer technology in the 1980s.

The Hughes DirecPC™ home satellite broadband branding circa 1996.

Soon, however, he learns about online chat rooms, accessed via Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which remind him of the old online bulletin boards he had used as a child. The social aspect of IRC is appealing, and its users practice file sharing – uploading pirated games and other software – similar to the sharing he had experienced on the old bulletin board services.

ASCII-art celebratory illustration by Museum of Portable Sound Staff, available on t-shirts and other products in the Museum of Portable Sound Gift Shop.

Glover adopts the screen name ADEG and begins trading pirated software amongst the hardcore online pirates collectively known as The Scene.

• 10 August 1996
An IRC pirate by the username of NetFrack shares the first online pirated MP3 in history: a ripped copy of Metallica‘s single ‘Until It Sleeps’.

The World’s First Pirated MP3 File is now a part of our museum’s Permanent Collection Galleries. Book an online visit to our museum to experience it yourself!

Announcing this new form of sharing recorded audio for free online in the hacker zine Affinity (which is distributed on floppy disk via snail mail), NetFrack establishes a hacking group named CDA (‘Compress ‘Da Audio’) who also begin distributing cracked copies of Fraunhofer’s L3Enc and WinPlay3 software online, allowing anyone to encode MP3 files from Compact Discs and listen to them on their computer for free.

Tupac Amaru Shakur, 1971–1996

• 13 September 1996
Tupac Shakur dies as a result of injuries sustained during a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on 7 September.

The shooting is one of a chain of events which has broken the roster of Death Row Records into multiple factions pitted against each other. Upon Tupac’s death, the label finally implodes. Still, sales of Tupac’s back catalog – now owned by MCA Records and Doug Morris – skyrockets.

Morris decides to rebrand MCA as Universal Music Group in an attempt to shake the company free of MCA’s past poor reputation. Over the next two years, Universal will become one of the biggest record labels in the world due to the successes of No Doubt, Marilyn Manson, and Limp Bizkit, all of whom were signed by Interscope.

MCA Records rebrands itself Universal Music Group.

• Late Autumn 1996
Dell Glover uses his IRC connections to obtain copies of L3Enc and WinPlay3, along with several pirated MP3 files including one of his favourite songs, Tupac‘s ‘California Love‘. He listens to the MP3 file and his copy of Tupac’s original CD side-by-side on his computer speakers and is unable to tell the difference.

He begins to question the need for Compact Discs at all.

• Late 1996
Fraunhofer‘s computer network begins receiving a massive increase in traffic and downloads from people interested in MP3 technology. In later interviews with the staff, they will collectively forget that this increased traffic ever occurred, claiming to have not noticed anything out of the ordinary.


Fraunhofer publishes Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) codec – its MP3 replacement free of MUSICAM’s debilitating filter bank. It is superior to MP3 in sound quality and compresses audio in smaller file sizes. They prepare to roll it out officially as the replacement to MP3.

21 April 1997
Winamp, a piece of music jukebox software capable of playing MP3s, is released for DOS, Windows, and MacOS. It has been developed by Nullsoft, a small Arizona software company founded by Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev.

WinAmp 0.92

• 27 May 1997
While in the United States to attend a conference, Karleinz Brandenburg is shown a copy of an article in that day’s copy of the USA Today newspaper entitled ‘Sound Advances Open Doors To Bootleggers – Albums on Web sites proliferate‘ written by music journalist Bruce Haring.

Reconstruction of the explosive USA Today headline by Museum of Portable Sound Staff.

Alarmed, the anti-piracy Brandenburg returns to Germany and begins strategising a way for record companies to circumvent the music pirates.

The RIAA dismiss Karlheinz Brandenburg from a meeting that otherwise might have prevented the collapse of the recording industry.

• Summer 1997
Brandenburg travels to Washington, DC to meet with the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America®) at their headquarters in order to present them with his latest invention: a copy-protected MP3, locked with a form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) software.

The music executives feel Brandenburg is holding them hostage: in order for them to sell DRM-protected MP3s, they would be required to license this new MP3 technology from Fraunhofer.

The RIAA reject Brandenburg’s offer of help, and he returns to Germany.

Dell Glover begins running a small side business.

Dell Glover is now running a small side business selling burned CD-Rs out of the trunk of his car of pirated movies and software he has downloaded via IRC.

Although he still sees leaked music from the PolyGram plant for sale on the black market, he refuses to participate for fear of losing his now stable full-time job there.

• September 1997
The incoming university classes around the world arrive for the new school year, giving scores of music-hungry young people free access to high-speed internet connections for the first time.

Dorm rooms become 24-hour MP3 acquisition dens, and web servers around the world soon fill up with countless pirated MP3 files.

• 10 December 1997
Digital music service eMusic is announced. Though its website is merely brochureware at this point, it will soon begin selling unrestricted, unlocked MP3 files via a subscription model.

The original eMusic logo.

17 December 1997
The website is launched by Michael Robertson and Greg Flores, who at the time are running a series of websites for ‘Z Company‘, one of which,, was an FTP search site.

The logo used for at launch, December 1997.

While reviewing the search logs, Flores had noticed that a large number of users were searching for ‘.mp3’ – so he convinced Robertson that they should purchase the domain name from its previous owner and start some sort of business.

When it launches, is little more than a clickbait portal to drive users to, currently the source of most of Z Company’s revenue. It will very quickly outpace and ramp up its identity as a one-stop-shop for all things MP3, including links to MP3 encoding and decoding software, and soon, a platform via which unsigned musicians can upload their music in MP3 format in the hopes that they will get noticed by fans and record labels.


A silver AES medal, featuring the names of Caucasian men Alexander Graham Bell, Emile Berliner, and Thomas Edison.

With MP3 and AAC now the dominant audio codecs in the marketplace, Karlheinz Brandenburg is awarded his first medal, a silver award for technical achievement, from the Audio Engineering Society. He will go on to win five more awards from the prestigious organisation.

An original MP Man digital audio player

• March 1998
The world’s first solid state portable digital audio (and MP3) player to be sold to the public, the MP Man, is released in Asia by South Korean company SaeHan Information Systems.

Users need to find their own software to encode music into MP3 format. Files are transferred to it from a computer using a parallel port-equipped docking station.

The first models sold in Japan come with 32MB or 64MB of memory, and can be expanded.

The smaller 32MB model costs the equivalent of about US$625 today.

Dell Glover purchases six more CD burners and begins burning about 30 bootleg copies of movies and software per hour.

His once-small side business is now netting him hundreds of tax-free dollars per week.

It also makes him a middle-man between ordinary people and the shadowy online pirates who participate in The Scene.

• May 1998
Seagram, the struggling parent company of Universal Music Group, purchases PolyGram Records, which had been previously owned by Philips (the parent company of MUSICAM, Fraunhofer‘s chief rival in the old audio encoding wars) for US$10 million, considered expensive due to PolyGram’s declining sales.

The purchasing prospectus prepared by PolyGram mentions a possible rise in music piracy due to the proliferation of home CD burners, but does not mention the MP3.

PolyGram is now under the direct control of Doug Morris who, having survived the home taping controversy of the 1980s as a successful record executive, believes that consumers will continue to purchase physical media as long as he continues to sign popular, hit-generating talent.

Doug Morris is sure everything’s going to be fine.

• June 1998
Rather than closing down as feared, the Kings Mountain PolyGram CD plant expands under UMG‘s acquisition.

Staff numbers double, an additional warehouse is constructed, and even stricter anti-theft security measures are implemented.

Shawn Fanning (left) and Sean Parker discussing theoretical physics and the disadvantages of a daily hygiene regimen, circa 1998.

• September 1998
Shawn Fanning begins his freshman year studying at Northeastern University, a private school in Boston, Massachusetts.

He is bored and rarely attends classes, preferring to stay in his dorm room teaching himself computer programming.

His online friend – self-described autodidact Sean Fanning – has decided not to go to college after high school. The two maintain almost constant contact on the Internet.

During his time in the Northeastern dorms, he finds himself surrounded by fellow students desperately collecting pirated MP3 files. Fanning grows tired of the illicit, roundabout procedures necessary in order to locate pirated MP3 files in the backwaters of the Internet, and decides to continuing teaching himself coding with an end-goal in mind: the creation of a piece of software that will allow anyone around the world to search and download MP3 files from other people’s personal computers – a simple-to-use interface for file sharing.

The WinAmp 2.0 default skin.

• 8 September 1998
Winamp 2.0 is released, becoming one of the most downloaded pieces of software for the Windows operating system.

The Diamond Rio PMP-300, the world’s 2nd portable MP3 player sold to the public. Image by John Fader, Wikipedia.

• 15 September 1998
The next major portable digital audio player, the Diamond Rio, is released in the United States.

Unlike the previous year’s meeting with Karlheinz Brandenburg about DRM-protected MP3s – or the release a few months earlier of the MP Man in far-away Asia – the Diamond Rio’s presence on American soil greatly alarms the RIAA.

The release of the Diamond Rio finally sets the RIAA’s Spidey Sense tingling.

They finally begin to sense an existential threat to their power (i.e. their revenue stream). They decide to act.


• 8 October 1998
The RIAA – in the first of many litigious acts to come – files suit in the Central District Court of California asking for a temporary restraining order to prevent the sale of the Rio, claiming the player violates the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act. The case is appealed to a higher court to be decided later.


Record sales up through 1999, via

• The recording industry has what will become its most profitable year in history, with sales generating nearly US$29 billion in revenue.

This is due in part to a years-long practice of illegal price-fixing initiated by the world’s five largest record labels, who have spent the past few years convincing retailers to refrain from selling reduced price CDs in exchange for access to a pooled advertising fund.

The Sub Pop Records logo‘s logo looks like this at the time of the Sub Pop deal

• 24 February 1999
Then-independent Seattle, Washington record label Sub Pop tells WIRED Magazine that they will begin issuing MP3 files of selected bands’ music via a partnership with, becoming the world’s first traditional label to release music on MP3. The artists who have agreed to allow their music to be downloaded for free are Combustible Edison, Saint Etienne, The Pernice Brothers, and The Murder City Devils.

Sony, off in their own little world, releases ATRAC3, an upgrade of their proprietary ATRAC file compression technology.

• May 1999
Shawn Fanning drops out of school and moves to northern California. He and Sean Parker found Napster, Inc. using US$50,000 that Parker has managed to raise based on Fanning’s in-progress MP3 search software.

Clockwise from top: The Napster logo; Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning in San Mateo, CA, 1999 (screencap from Downloaded); the Napster application in the process of downloading and sharing music.

• 1 June 1999
Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker release Napster 1.0, a groundbreaking file sharing program operating over peer-to-peer (P2P) networks specialising in the free exchange of MP3 audio files. It becomes particularly popular on college campuses and at Internet startup companies, where high-speed Internet connections are easily accessible. Its user base rapidly expands; sales of Compact Discs continue to rise; musicians begin to coalesce into factions either against Napster or supporting it.


• June 1999
America Online purchases Nullsoft, the parent company of WinAmp, the most popular MP3 playing software for Windows, for US$80 million.

• June 1999
eMusic purchases IUMA, the Internet Music Archive.

Postcard mailed to subscribers of They Might Be Giants’ Hello! Music Club to announce the MP3-only release of their album Long Tall Weekend by eMusic (1999), the first MP3-only album by a major recording artist in history.

• 19 July 1999
eMusic makes history by releasing the first MP3-only full album by a major recording artist: Long Tall Weekend by They Might Be Giants.


• August 1999
The RIAA settles its lawsuit against the manufacturers of the Diamond Rio MP3 player out of court, allowing the device back on store shelves.

Sales prove disappointing, because it mostly sucks.


• 7 December 1999
The RIAA sues Napster, claiming ‘music piracy’ and ‘massive copyright infringement’.

• Late 1999
Although Dell Glover has been trading in pirated movies and software for nearly two years, his inventory consists only of post-release titles.

An RNS download screen for the album Doc’s Da Name 2000 by rapper Redman, uploaded on 4 December 1998 – 4 days before its release date.

He learns there is a burgeoning underground network somewhere within The Scene online that is dealing in pre-release material, some of which comes from the Kings Mountain plant. Glover confronts a coworker he knows must be involved, who introduces Glover that evening to Rabid Neurosis (RNS), an encrypted section of The Scene to which the coworker has been occasionally uploading pre-release pirated MP3s.

The coworker also introduces Glover to the leader of RNS, someone going by the screen name Kali, who makes Glover an offer over a mobile phone call:

If Glover is willing to upload pre-release MP3s of CDs pressed at the Kings Mountain plant, Kali will give him access to as much pre-release software and movies as he desires.

Though Glover has so far resisted the temptation to touch pre-release material smuggled out of the plant, he finds the offer impossible to resist.


Music33‘s roster of record labels, from its website’s homepage courtesy the Internet Archive; Tony Wilson using a PC (date unknown).
A first generation Creative Nomad, the MP3 player that inspired Tony Wilson to go digital

• January 2000
Manchester, UK Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson jumps into the fray by launching, a website for selling MP3 files. Wilson had traveled to California the previous year and purchased a Creative Labs NOMAD portable MP3 player; returning to the UK, he declares to associates that he now knows the future of the music business is digital, and sets about creating an online MP3 store to sell each song for 33 pence – which is split evenly between the website, the artist, and the record label controlling the rights to the song.

Because of Napster’s success at trading free copies of MP3s, Music33 embeds its audio files into locked PDFs as a primitive form of Digital Rights Management.

With UK online credit card usage requiring a minimum £5 purchase per transaction, Wilson is forced to partner with a payment company specialising in micro-transactions; the payment process is a usability nightmare.

Wilson attempts to convince major labels to sign on to his service; Factory Records’ famous ‘no contract-contract’ (in which recording artists maintained 100% control of their output) works against him, and no major label agrees to join Music33.

Wilson therefore concentrates on small independent labels, acquiring the catalogues of labels like Blood and Fire, Grand Central, and Skam, which features underground acts such as Autechre and Boards of Canada. He continues trying to amass capital to convince the major labels he can deliver an online store that works, but the site implodes in a little over a year.


• 13 April 2000
Metallica and Dr. Dre sue Napster.

However, headlines of the day conveniently neglect to mention Dr. Dre, and Metallica bears the brunt of the eventual fan backlash.

• 13 April 2000
Shawn Fanning appears on the MTV Video Music Awards alongside Carson Daly to introduce a live performance by Britney Spears. He wears a Metallica t-shirt.

Due to MTV‘s corporate spinelessness, in the interests of ‘equal time’ Lars Ulrich appears in a pre-taped and almost entirely non-humorous anti-Napster sketch with Marlon Wayans in which Ulrich boasts about being infected with venereal disease.

Shawn Fanning on the cover of TIME Magazine

• 1 October 2000
In a year when most news coverage of Napster focused on its legal troubles, TIME Magazine puts Shawn Fanning on its cover, contributing to his ongoing victory in the court of public opinion.


iTunes 1.0: Rip. Mix. Burn.

• 9 January 2001
Apple releases iTunes, Macintosh-only software for importing, organising, and playing digital music files, especially MP3s. Its release is based on the concept of users converting music they already own on Compact Disc into MP3 files that they would then arrange into their own custom mixes (or ‘playlists’) and then inscribe those files in that order onto a recordable CD-ROM – hence Apple’s original iTunes marketing slogan: Rip. Mix. Burn. In the first week, it is available, 275,000 Mac users download the free software.

Apple Rip. Mix. Burn television commercial.

• March 2001

The KaZaA logo

KaZaA, an Estonian-created, Windows-based P2P filesharing network dealing in MP3s and video files, is opened.

• 5 March 2001
Napster‘s appeal of the RIAA‘s lawsuit is rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court, and an injunction is issued to prevent the trading of copyrighted music on Napster’s network.

Napster is shut down. Illustration by Museum of Portable Sound staff.

• 11 July 2001
Napster shuts down its entire network in order to comply with the court injunction.

Logo for the FLAC format.

• 20 July 2001 announces the FLAC file format, an audio coding format for the lossless compression of digital audio. It has many advantages over MP3: as a lossless compression system, no audio fidelity is lost from a high resolution original; it is also free and open source, unlike MP3, which charges corporations licensing fees.

Napster switches to the .NAP format. Photo illustration by Museum of Portable Sound staff.

• 23 July 2001
Napster announces that, as a way of complying with the court injunction, they will abandon the MP3 format and create one of their own: .NAP, a closed system only compatible with Napster software. Napster has abandoned the MP3, the format it made famous.

Napster forks over $26 million to the RIAA.

• 24 September 2001
Napster agrees to pay music creators and copyright owners a $26 million settlement for past, unauthorized uses of music, and as an advance against future licensing royalties of $10 million. In order to pay those fees, Napster converts its once-free service into a subscription system. Users leave in droves.

Artist’s interpretation of the effect the unveiling of the iPod had on the world of portable sound.

• 23 October 2001
In what will be the most significant step towards its dominance over the digital music economy, Apple introduces the iPod at a modest ceremony in Cupertino, California. Steve Jobs describes the 5GB capacity of the iPod as ‘A thousand songs in your pocket.’ Although this concept revolutionises contemporary thought concerning a person’s individual music collection, it is based upon the following arbitrary mathematics, as detailed in the fine print of Apple’s iPod advertising at the time: a ‘song‘ in this case means four minutes of MP3 audio encoded at 128kbps.

From this day forward, Apple effectively controls the fate of the MP3.

Watch Steve Jobs unveil the original iPod. (9:12)

The history of the MP3 is FAR from over.

Stay tuned for the second part of our MP3 timeline.

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