All the Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning's Napster

Overview

"At age seventeen, Shawn Fanning designed a computer program that transformed the Internet into an unlimited library of free music. Tens of millions of young people quickly signed on. Time magazine put Fanning on its cover, and his company, Napster, became a household name. It did not take long for the music industry to declare war, one that has now engulfed the biggest entertainment and technology companies on the planet." "For All the Rave, top cyberculture journalist Joseph Menn gained unprecedented access to Fanning, other key Napster and
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Overview

"At age seventeen, Shawn Fanning designed a computer program that transformed the Internet into an unlimited library of free music. Tens of millions of young people quickly signed on. Time magazine put Fanning on its cover, and his company, Napster, became a household name. It did not take long for the music industry to declare war, one that has now engulfed the biggest entertainment and technology companies on the planet." "For All the Rave, top cyberculture journalist Joseph Menn gained unprecedented access to Fanning, other key Napster and music executives, reams of internal emails, unpublished court records, and other resources. The result is the definitive account of the Napster saga, for the first time revealing secret takeover and settlement talks, the unseen role of Shawn's uncle in controlling Napster, and hidden agendas and infighting from Napster's trenches to the top ranks of the German media giant Bertelsmann." All the Rave is an account of genius and greed, visionary leaps and disastrous business decisions, and the clash of the hacker and investor cultures with that of the copyright establishment. Napster left a generation of music fans feeling that paying the recording industry close to twenty dollars for a cd was a foolish and unnecessary extravagance, which provoked a still-growing backlash against digital media consumers that might leave them with less control than ever. Here is the inside story of the young visionary and the company that made it happen.
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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
The rise of the information age looked like a revolution partly because it created an élite from the previously unheralded ranks of programmers and gamers. Shawn Fanning, who spent part of his childhood in the welfare system and part in a foster home before inventing the file-sharing software Napster as a Northeastern University undergraduate, is the unlikely hero of Joseph Menn's All The Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning's Napster. Menn's Fanning, bright and soft-spoken, displays admirable loyalty to those who supported him early on, and sometimes too much loyalty -- his uncle John, a surrogate father who gave him his first computer, managed to grab a seventy-per-cent stake in the company and foiled any possible settlement with the record industry.

John Romero, one of the minds behind the popular combat video games Doom and Quake, was also shaped by an early experience with a father figure: when he was eleven, his stepfather discovered him at a pizza parlor playing video games and smashed his face into the machine. According to David Kushner's Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture, Romero first exorcised his demons in comic books that featured a boy being punished in gruesome ways by his father, then put the same themes to use in the games he created with his partner, John Carmack. After Doom's success, Romero and Carmack's relationship degenerated into a vicious feud -- or, in gamer terms, a "deathmatch." Romero lost but walked away with a tidy fortune and found love with a Playboy model-cum-gamer who used her salary from Romero's new company to get breast implants. (Kate Taylor)
The Washington Post
[Menn's] focus, though, is on the internal history of Napster itself, and he has waded through a host of interviews, internal memos and court documents to put together the story. The result is an admirable piece of reporting, of interest to both friends and foes of the movement Napster helped to create. — Jess Walker
Publishers Weekly
In this definitive look at the revolutionary music-sharing site, Menn follows Napster's trajectory, from its founder Shawn Fanning's bedroom in Massachusetts to his relocated headquarters in California, and from the company's challenge of copyright laws and its stand against music industry behemoths to the federal court injunction that paralyzed it. Using interviews with key players, emails, court papers and internal documents, Menn, who covers Silicon Valley for the LA Times, reveals a union of youth, hype, rash decision-making and groundbreaking technology. The company beloved by young music fiends and bored office workers all across America had its share of problems during its meteoric rise: the shady background of the major shareholder and self-appointed co-founder, Fanning's uncle John; the never-ending search for funding and executive staff; the lack of a concrete business plan; and, of course, piracy charges. For several years, though, Napster was bolstered by public opinion and independent bands at odds with the record industry. "Napster dominated the market," Menn contends, "both because of its damn-the-torpedoes approach [to business] and its flawlessly easy-to-use technology." But when a judge ruled against the company's sale to Bertelsmann and Fanning failed to raise enough money for his own bid, Napster filed for bankruptcy and the young "ungeeky geek" whose hair gave Napster its name moved onto a new idea-one, he maintained, that would respect copyright laws. This story of hacker versus record giant is already a classic dot-com age tale, and Menn does it justice in this worthwhile read. 8-page b&w photo insert. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781422367582
  • Publisher: DIANE Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Pages: 355

Meet the Author

JOSEPH MENN covers Silicon Valley, venture capital, and Microsoft for the Los Angeles Times. He lives in San Francisco.
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Read an Excerpt

1
The Rebels
The rave in Oakland captured Napster as it was just coming into its own at the center of the Web boom's insanity and on the way to becoming the fastest-growing use of the Internet. The sometimes painful story of the quiet young man at the heart of the company began at another, far different party twenty years earlier, on the other side of the country. It was in a ramshackle old house in the hard-luck town of Rockland, Massachusetts, south of Boston. The sprawling home was barely big enough to contain the eight brothers and sisters of the Fanning brood, a diverse and struggling Irish family that this night invited half the neighborhood over to celebrate Eddie Fanning's high school graduation. The Fannings loved music and a raucous good time, and they had arranged for a band of local renown to play. MacBeth performed songs by better-known Boston rockers Aerosmith and sang its own material, even recording a 45 single. Coleen Fanning, sixteen, was especially impressed with the band and with eighteen-year-old Attleboro guitarist Joe Rando in particular. Hundreds of friends and neighbors showed up to enjoy the night. The next oldest after Coleen in the family, fourteen-year-old John Fanning, passed a hat and collected thousands of dollars to pay for the bash, his first entrepreneurial experience.
The band became part of the Fannings' social circle, and in time Coleen began dating Rando, who was smart, good-looking, and from a wealthier family. A couple of years later, after Coleen told Rando that she was pregnant, their romance ended. She kept the baby, and the young Shawn Fanning joined the already-overstuffed household in 1980, which moved soon to nearbyBrockton.
The first few years "were hell," according to Coleen, a small, freckled, blue-eyed woman who laughs a lot and speaks with a pronounced Boston accent. She moved from one tough area to another, then married an ex-Marine and truck driver named Raymond Verrier. The couple had four more children, and it wasn't the happiest of homes. "Money was always a pretty big issue," Shawn said. "There was a lot of tension around that."
They lived near Brockton's projects for a time, and Coleen could see her already-shy son withdrawing from what he saw happening around him. "He went inside himself real deep and said, 'I want to get out of this.' Even though it meant losing him a little bit, it's what I wanted for him," said Coleen, who was working then as a nurse's aide. During a split between the Verriers, when Shawn was about twelve, he and his siblings had to move for several months into a foster home until the couple reconciled. Always a strong student, Shawn tried to escape by concentrating on school and by playing guitar, basketball, and baseball. When the family was through the worst of the hardship, the Verriers moved to the small middle-class town of Harwich Port, on the elbow of Cape Cod. The new house was nice enough, if still crowded, and the neighborhood was full of pine trees and songbirds.
As Shawn kept playing sports, his mother encouraged him, thinking the whole time about scholarships to college. Shawn was especially strong at baseball, even though fear gripped him at each trip to the plate. He batted over .650 one year at Harwich High School, a small school with some very good teachers. As Shawn grew, Coleen wanted to give him more than she had had, more than she could give him directly. "We don't have much," she said. "He didn't get a lot of things that people get who come from money."
She saw that Shawn was motivated, and she turned to the person she knew best who could be a mentor of sorts, her business-minded brother John. John Fanning gave Shawn money for each A he brought home, and there were many. And he bought Shawn his first computer, an Apple Macintosh the Verriers could never have afforded. Shawn took to it immediately. Often he would be on the machine doing homework or chatting over the Internet through the evening. Every hour he typed, the radio blared. "I always knew from an early age he was going to accomplish things," Coleen said. Given her son's way of working, "it doesn't strike me as strange he would figure out a way to have music on computers."
John Fanning bought other presents for his nephew too. Nothing was more important than the car?a dark purple BMW Z3 that ensured Shawn made an impression at Harwich High. "He was a nice kid. Everybody liked him," said Tim Jamoulis, who played on the tennis team with Shawn. History teacher Richard Besciak taught Shawn in homeroom for all four years and remembered Shawn's unusual ability to focus intently on the task at hand. "A lot of kids can tune out, but he was right on track," Besciak said. "He was an A student without trying. He was a nice, generous, levelheaded young man." Harwich High had only about a hundred students in each grade, but around Shawn's time, there were several promising computer students. After Shawn became one of them, everything else fell by the wayside. "Once I started getting into programming, I pretty much quit all sports," Shawn said. A fellow hacker at the school said that Shawn's work on the machines "really seemed to consume him. There were those who were doing it just as a hobby, for games, or to cheat in school. Shawn went through that phase, but it was just a starting point. He was quickly beyond that, doing much more sophisticated things."
When Shawn was seventeen, John Fanning located Joe Rando on the Internet and asked his sister Coleen if she wanted Shawn to meet his biological father, who still lived in the area. Coleen had no hard feelings about Rando and had told Shawn the truth when he was seven, so she agreed immediately. "I knew Shawn had to get to know him. He was at the right age, and I knew it could only be good," Coleen said. "I know Shawn gets a lot of his good qualities from me," she said, laughing at herself. "But he gets a lot from the other side too." Still, when she first saw the two of them together, she couldn't get out of the car, she was so shocked. It was just that they looked so much alike, right down to the loping way they walked. Shawn and Rando hit it off, and they stayed in touch during all the craziness that Shawn was about to go through. Rando had done well for himself, earning a degree in physics and an M.B.A. He worked in fiber optics and tried his hand at running small software firms before settling in as a real-estate developer specializing in shopping malls. Rando discovered that he preferred working for himself to laboring at big companies or under the control of powerful investors. An Internet skeptic, Rando gave his son one major piece of business advice about Napster: to take the money as soon as he could. "I always told him, 'If you can cash out, cash out,' because the valuations I was seeing were mind-boggling," Rando said.
For more day-to-day guidance, Coleen continued to steer Shawn toward his uncle. Even though Coleen and John weren't close, John Fanning had ambition that she wanted Shawn to experience up close. "He's like Shawn in a different way," she said. "He wanted out of that situation he started in. It was the motivation to succeed that I wanted Shawn to pick up on."
John Fanning lived an hour away in blue-collar Hull, a 350-year-old fishing town halfway back to Boston from the Cape that was trying to survive on the tourist trade without offering much in return. Shawn saw his uncle's office, the home of his latest venture, Internet firm Chess.net, as a refuge. He worked summers there, learning to program and often sleeping on the couch. Fanning loved playing games, and he developed a serious habit with a computer video game called StarCraft. His favorite opponent was Shawn. Even when Shawn's hacking hobby started to look like a serious business, Fanning wanted to play. More than once, when Shawn's friends and collaborators needed him to work, he told them he couldn't: His uncle wanted to keep playing StarCraft. If he didn't keep playing with him, Shawn told them, Fanning wouldn't give him money for dinner. Shawn's friends believed that Shawn wasn't kidding, and that if his uncle was kidding, the humor was much darker than what they were used to. "I'm sure if he hadn't played StarCraft, he would have gotten fed," Napster cofounder Sean Parker said. "But John Fanning has a way of being really stubborn."
Shawn shared his family's love of a good time. But where Fanning could be boisterous, his nephew was inward-looking and serious. It was while he was working at Fanning's company that Shawn expanded on his early taste for computing. "I was just getting into programming, so I spent a lot of my time just fiddling with projects and hanging out. I have a really fond memory of that time, but I think I could have taken better advantage of it in terms of learning," Shawn said. "Eventually I transitioned into doing some programming for the Web back end. I built the Web store. I was doing a lot of network programming and Unix programming and stuff. I was around computer guys, so it gave me a chance to learn."
It was also then that Shawn discovered what would make him famous: MP3 digital music files he found through Internet Relay Chat, the hangout of choice for budding Internet programmers, hackers, and wanna-bes. Invented in Finland in 1988, IRC is a form of mass instant-messaging. In a channel, members type and send messages in real time to anyone who is monitoring that channel, and they can switch to private interactions. In the late 1990s, the IRC system spawned thousands of channels on every topic conceivable. Some were devoted to MP3s, where users traded music. Others focused on free software or pirated programs. Some of the channels were closed, while others were open to anyone who stumbled onto them.
__
It was on one of the open channels, devoted to minor hacker exploits and other things geek, that Shawn first ran into Sean Parker in 1996. As Shawn learned more and worked himself up the IRC hacker hierarchy, he got invited to join a private IRC channel called w00w00, which would play a key role in Napster's development. W00w00 was for hackers and others interested in security issues who knew what they were doing, having already cut their teeth elsewhere. It wasn't full of kids who pulled off hacking attacks by running scripts of code they had downloaded elsewhere. But it also wasn't for the established old-school hackers, who kept to themselves for fear of exposure. (The term hacker has two meanings. One is generally positive, implying technical ability. The other is negative, implying improper behavior. Many self-described hackers prefer to call those who engage in wrongful behavior as "crackers." But since that term is little used outside of hacking circles, this book adopts the word hacker in its broadest sense, without intending to give it moral weight one way or the other.)
Like New York nightclubs, IRC channels would rise and fall quickly in the esteem of others. Once too many people joined, the hip crowd moved on and started something new. W00w00 had been founded by a baby-faced high-schooler from Utah named Matt Conover, an impressive young hacker whose nickname in the channel was Shok. Shok had gained some notoriety for releasing detailed "exploits"--code that could be used for attacks--something that is extremely controversial in the computer world. Many big software companies say the practice is destructive and should be criminalized. Some security experts, however, argue that the threat of the release of such code is the only thing that forces big companies to admit they have a problem and fix it. At present, some groups are attempting to form a compromise standard, such as a four-week warning before an exploit's release.
Shok's work is available on hacking sites today, including a "wardialer" that bombards Unix computer systems looking for open modem lines, a key hacker technique. Another is a program to fake an IP address, a computer's location on the Internet. Shawn's nickname in the group was Napster, which he had picked up on the basketball court for the short, nappy hair he sported before shaving it off. Another mainstay was Dugsong, who was in reality a University of Michigan student named Dug Song. "The whole point of w00w00 was to have an environment that was open to all," Song said. "People could talk about the computer universe from both sides. I'm a 'white hat.' I'd never actually done anything criminal. But there are definitely people interested in other things." He paused, searching for the right phrase: "Applied uses of the technology."

Copyright© 2003 by Joseph Menn
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