Review: How Music Got Free

1 minute read

Popular Wisdom Holds that file sharing arose from small, uncoordinated acts of piracy (a.k.a. people swapping songs on Napster in the late ’90s). But Stephen Witt’s book, the result of five years of reporting, argues the opposite. The music-should-be-free mentality now fueling multibillion-dollar streaming wars (see Apple vs. Spotify) began in 1986, when a German engineer started working on a digital-audio-compression process. Beyond Napster, the birth of the MP3 empowered Rabid Neurosis, a virtual group that leveraged its connections–one member worked at a CD-manufacturing plant–to leak more than 20,000 albums from 1996 to 2007, prompting an FBI investigation. It came too late: the MP3 had already “accidentally crippled a global industry,” writes Witt.


More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Nolan Feeney at