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Most file sharing in this era was done by modem over landline telephone, at speeds from 300 to 9600 bits per second. Many file systems in use only supported short filenames. Computer memory and speed was very limited, with 33 MHz CPUs only being accessible to consumers at the end of the decade.
FTP, IRC and Usenet were the main vehicles for file sharing in this decade. Data compression technologies for audio and video (like MP3, AAC and MPEG) came into use towards the end of the 1990s. Copper wire was common with fibre optic cable only becoming available late in the decade.
June 1996 - Mp3 warez group Rabid Neurosis founded. Using connections inside record companies, they rip pre-release music CDs, and make the mp3's available for others to download.Mirabilis developed ICQ a chat client for Windows that can do file transfers up to 2 GBs.
1997 - Scour Inc. is founded by five UCLA Computer Science students. Early products provide file search and download using the SMB protocol, as well as a multimedia web search engine released in 1998. Scour attracted early attention and support from media industry insiders before declaring bankruptcy in October 2000.
April 1997 - Winamp audio player is released, including the ability to make playlists, leading to increased use of MP3 files.
MP3.com is founded by Michael Robertson and Greg Flores. Initially an FTP search engine, MP3.com becomes a hosting service for unsigned artists. It serves 4 million audio file downloads per day at its peak and becomes the largest technology IPO in July 1999. The release of My.MP3.com in January 2000, which allowed users to stream their own files, would prompt litigation. In May 2000, UMG v. MP3.com, would be ruled in favor of the record labels. MP3.com would settle for $200 million and discontinue the service.
January 1998 - Musicmatch Jukebox is released providing easier to use CD-ripping software for creating mp3's on Windows.
March 1998 - The MPMan F10, the first portable MP3 player, is launched.
July 1998 - SoundJam MP released allowing mp3 playback and CD-ripping on Macintosh computers. In 2000, Apple bought this program, and used it as the basis for iTunes.
October 1998 - Digital Millennium Copyright Act is unanimously passed by the US Senate. DMCA provides a 'safe harbor' ensuring that Internet Service Providers cannot be sued for the activities of their users.
November 1998 - Audiogalaxy is created by Michael Merhej. Initially an FTP search engine, the Audiogalaxy Satellite P2P client would reach 1 million downloads in 2001. In May 2002, a suit by the RIAA would force Audiogalaxy to block sharing of illegal songs. In June 2002, Audiogalaxy would settle the suit for an undisclosed amount and make its services opt-in. In September 2002, Audiogalaxy would discontinue P2P services in favor of Rhapsody, a pay streaming service.
December 1998 - MP3 Newswire, the first digital media news site, is launched.
February 1999 - China's Tencent launches QQ, a chat client with file transfer capability.
June 1999 - Napster was created by Shawn Fanning. Napster let users search across all users' shares. Napster provided a centralized server that indexed the files, and carried out the searches. Individual files, however, remain on the hosts' computers and were transferred directly from peer to peer.
December 1999 - The first lawsuits were filed against Napster.
In computer science terms, modern file sharing begins in the 2000s. Several file sharing protocols and file formats were introduced, along with nearly a decade in protocol experimentation. Towards the end of the 2000s, BitTorrent became subject to a "man in the middle" attack in TCP mode - and this has led most file sharing protocols to move to UDP towards the very end of the decade. Client and tracker software in this era was in development as much as the transmission protocols, so the file trading software was not always as reliable as it could have been.
March - Scour Exchange is released as a P2P file exchange service to compete with Napster. In addition to audio files, it also supports sharing of other media as well as software.
March - Gnutella becomes the first decentralized file sharing network with the release of a network client by Justin Frankel and Tom Pepper of Nullsoft. Like Napster, users could share large numbers of files at once, and search across the entire network for files.
Freenet is created by Ian Clarke. Its goal is to provide freedom of speech through a peer-to-peer network which focuses on protecting anonymity. Files are distributed across the computers of Freenet's users. Ian Clarke's paper would become the most-cited computer science paper of 2000. Freenet would become a darknet in 2008.
September - eDonkey2000 client and server software is released by Jed McCaleb, introducing hashing into decentralized file sharing.
October - Scour Exchange is shut down as Scour Inc. files for bankruptcy in the face of copyright infringement litigation.
October - Napster is credited with driving Radiohead's Kid A album to the top of the Billboard charts.
December - Peer-to-peer file sharing client WinMX 1.8 beta is released, providing users with another way to connect to Napster (later OpenNap) networks.
March - Kazaa and the FastTrack proprietary protocol are released by Niklas Zennström, Janus Friis, and Priit Kasesalu. The Kazaa Media Desktop client came bundled with malware. Legal action in the Netherlands would force an offshoring of the company, renamed Sharman Networks. In September 2003, the RIAA would file suit against private individuals allegedly sharing files via Kazaa. In September 2005, UMA v. Sharman would be ruled against Sharman by the Federal Court of Australia. Sharman's non-compliance would prompt censorship of the program in Australia. In July 2006, the MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. would cause Sharman to settle for $100 million and convert Kazaa to a legal-only file sharing program.
April - Morpheus is released by MusicCity (later StreamCast), after licensing the FastTrack protocol. MusicCity had previously operated OpenNap servers. Morpheus would become a popular FastTrack client, with 4.5 million users, until licensing disputes and a protocol switch in February 2002. In March 2003, the Morpheus client was re-released to operate on Gnutella, using Gnucleus servant as its core. In June 2005, a redesigned Morpheus client would be released. In June 2005, MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. would be decided against StreamCast. In June 2008, the Morpheus client would become no longer available for download.
July - Napster shuts down due to injunction. Many former Napster users move to OpenNap servers.
July - Audiogalaxy Satellite client reaches 1 million downloads.
July 2 - BitTorrent released by Bram Cohen. Users only upload one or a small number of files at a time, but all peers are forced to seed to other peers from the parts of a file they have received so far. Initially, programs did not include a search function, so indexing sites sprung up. Downloads for popular files tend to be faster than on many other networks.
August - ShareReactor eDonkey network index site founded. It would be taken down by police in March 2004.
May 15 - First hearing before House Committee of Government Reform on inadvertent file sharing, Overexposed: The Threats to Privacy & Security on File Sharing Networks. Inadvertent File Sharing was a security concern detailed by researcher Nathaniel Good at HP Labs describing how user interface issues contributed to users of KaZaA inadvertently sharing personal and confidential information over p2p networks.
June 17 - Second congressional hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee on inadvertent file sharing The Dark Side of a Bright Idea: Could Personal and National Security Risks Compromise the Potential of P2P File-Sharing Networks?
July - Torrentse and Sharelive sites both shut down as a result of the MPAA starting to take action against BitTorrent sites.
September - TorrentSpy is registered. It would be shut down in March 2008, and in May 2008 it would be ordered to pay the MPAA $110 million in damages.
September 8 - The RIAA begins filing lawsuits against individuals allegedly sharing files on P2P networks such as Kazaa.
November - Winny source code is confiscated by the Kyoto Police
October 28 - The RIAA files an additional 750 lawsuits aimed at alleged copyright violations from file sharing.
December 14 - Suprnova and many other torrent indexes closed after cease and desist orders by MPAA.
December 14 - LokiTorrent refuses to comply with cease and desist orders, quickly gains 680,000 users, and $40,000 in legal fund donations. Its legitimacy would later be questioned and it would be taken over by MPAA in February 2005.
December 15 - US Federal Trade Commission Peer-to-Peer File-Sharing Workshop entitled Peer-to-Peer File-Sharing Technology: Consumer Protection and Competition Issues
January - Mininova torrent index goes online as a successor to Suprnova. It has served 5 billion downloads as of May 2008.
January - eXeem goes online and rumored/adversed as "the revenge of suprnova". The program failed to gain popularity and was eventually abandoned months later.
February - LokiTorrent indexing service shut down and is taken over by MPAA.
March - WinMX reported as the most popular music service with 2.1 million users followed by iTunes and LimeWire with 1.7 million users each.
June 30 - EzPeer wins its case vs IFPI Taiwan in Shilin district court. The high court would later reject an appeal, but ezPeer would settle with IPFI Taiwan. As of 2008[update], it is a legal music download service.
August - Yahoo! Messenger adds drag and drop file sharing capability with version 7.
September 13 - WinMX servers owned by Frontcode are shut down due to a cease and desist letter from the RIAA. Developer groups would set up new servers days later.
September 9 - Kuro () loses its case vs IFPI Taiwan in Taipei local court. It would also lose its case vs Push Sound Music & Entertainment on December 19, 2006. Kuro would lose its appeal in the Taiwan high court on July 16, 2008. Chairman Chen Shou-ten (), CEO James Chen (), president Chen Kuo-hsiung (), and one of Kuro's 500,000 members Chen Chia-hui (), were sentenced to fine and jail. It shut down its P2P services in 2006, and has become a legal music download service.
October 12 - RIAA files a lawsuit against Usenet.com, accusing it of being an illicit peer-to-peer file sharing site.
October 23 - OiNK's Pink Palace BitTorrent Tracker is raided and shut down by a joint effort between Dutch and British police.
October 24 - The civil-court jury trial for Capitol v. Thomas, the first lawsuit by major record labels against an alleged file sharer, concludes with a verdict for the plaintiffs and a statutory damage award of US$9,250 for each of 24 songs, for a total of $222,000. This was vacated due to an error in jury instruction, and a new trial was held in 2009.
November 9 - The Demonoid BitTorrent tracker shuts down until April 2008 citing legal threats by the CRIA.
December 20 - Shareaza.com, the homepage of Shareaza, is taken over by Discordia Ltd., a company closely related to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). It now distributes software containing spyware and adware.
Sony BMG opens up their music catalog for sale over internet DRM-free, the last music company to allow this.
January 10 - A trademark claiming the name Shareaza is filled by Discordia Ltd.
December 19 - The RIAA claims to have ended its P2P litigation campaign against individuals in the U.S., which had been losing money, in favor of a three strikes campaign. However, some new lawsuits continued to be filed.
April 17 - The Pirate Bay trial concludes with a guilty verdict; each defendant is sentenced to one year in jail and a total of 30 million SEK (US$3.6 million, 2.7 million EUR) in fines and damages. The people behind The Pirate Bay declare they will appeal the ruling.
April 24 - Legal fees in record industry lawsuits cause SeeqPod to sell its technology; the site closes until it finds a buyer.
June 15 - In the retrial of the 2007 Capitol v. Thomas case, a jury again finds in favor of the plaintiffs, and awards statutory damages of $80,000 per song, for a total of $1.92 million.
September 9 - 6 alleged members of the mp3 warez group Rabid Neurosis were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. Two were acquitted. Four pleaded guilty, and served 3-month prison sentences.
September 14 - Demonoid experiences hardware damage from power outages causing a three-month downtime.
September 30 - Global Gaming Factory fails to produce the funds to purchase The Pirate Bay and the deal is put to an end.
November 26 - Mininova has removed torrents to all copyrighted content that it does not have official agreements for.
December - BtChina and about 530 other sites registered in China were closed down.
In computer science terms, there have been few significant developments in the 2010s. The BitTorrent protocol and clients have become more stable, adopting UDP to defend against transmission problems related to TCP. IPv6 support increased with clients and trackers.
October 26, 2010 - US federal court judge Kimba Wood issued an injunction forcing LimeWire to prevent "the searching, downloading, uploading, file trading and/or file distribution functionality, and/or all functionality" of its software (see Arista Records LLC v. Lime Group LLC). As a result, LimeWire May 5, 2011 and newer have been disabled using a backdoor installed by the company.
November 9, 2010 - First release of a modified version of LimeWire Pro with all undesirable components removed (such as ad- and spyware, as well as dependencies to LimeWire LLC servers) under the name of "LimeWire Pirate Edition", enabling access to all advanced features of the professional version for free.
November 26, 2010 - The verdict in The Pirate Bay trial was announced. The appeal court shortened sentences of three of the defendants who appeared in court that day. Neij's sentence was reduced to 10 months, Sunde's to eight, and Lundström's to four. However, the fine was increased from 32 to 46 million kronor.
March 2011 - A case involving LimeWire is announced, with an attempt to sue the company for up to $75 trillion.
June 2011 - Malaysia government blocked 10 file sharing sites.
May 2014 - Infinit launched its Windows app (Public Beta).
November 2014 - Tencent, the Chinese internet company behind QQ and WeChat sued Netease for streaming 623 songs it claims it held exclusive licenses for. At the time, Netease was offering a Grooveshark-like free music service.
December 2014 - IsoHunt release the source code for Pirate Bay allowing anyone to deploy their own version of The Pirate Bay.
March 2015 - RapidShare - once the most famous file hosting service - shuts down
April 2015 - Grooveshark, music streaming site, shuts down
August 2015 - Video sharing website Openload.co comes online.
The FBI seize the file sharing site ShareBeast and arrest its administrator, Artur Sargsyan. The Recording Industry Association of America considered it America's most prolific file sharing site.
^Good, Nathaniel; Aaron Krekelberg (2003). "Usability and privacy: a study of Kazaa P2P file- sharing". Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: 137-144. doi:10.1145/642611.642636. S2CID14850483.