Skip to Content
MIT Technology Review

null
  • Shawn Fanning

    Age:
    21

    Not many undergrads write world-changing code, appear on the covers of Time, Fortune and BusinessWeek, or testify in front of U.S.Senate committees before they can legally buy beer. Shawn Fanning has done all three since founding the cultural juggernaut Napster in a Northeastern University dorm in 1999. Fanning transformed a software script he wrote to help a roommate retrieve digital music files from the Internet into a full-featured online swap service millions of users strong. The free program enabled users to post MP3 digital music files they had on their computers to an online index supported by Napster, and to access files from any other person’s computer. That way, users could swap music files directly. The application became so popular that the Recording Industry Association of America effectively shut it down in 2001 through lawsuits alleging copyright infringement. Fanning is busy relaunching his company as a paid subscription service. His concept, though, continues to challenge the status quo. Music industry giants are scrambling to mimic Napster’s success on a pay-per-use basis— but to no avail, as free copycat sites constantly spring up.