The Internet and Music

The Internet began in the early 1970s as a "network of networks" involving several different US university and government computer systems. It quickly expanded to incorporate computer networks in other countries, including Canada.

Internet and Music

The Internet began in the early 1970s as a "network of networks" involving several different US university and government computer systems. It quickly expanded to incorporate computer networks in other countries, including Canada. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, discussions of music began to appear on local modem-accessed Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs); this approach later expanded to include more geographically widespread services. The largest Canadian BBS was Canada Remote Systems (CRS, 1979-96), with 10,000 paid members. BBSs were often used by fan communities (eg, those dedicated to musicians, computers, etc.); by other groups (ethnic communities, professionals, etc.); and for news clippings and classified ads.

Music Audio File Formats and Software
Music audio files take up a lot of computer space compared to text files. Almost no personal computers included hard drives until 1987, when capacities were typically limited to about 20 megabytes (MB). A useful audio file format first emerged in 1988, with Apple's (Macintosh) Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF), followed in 1991 by Microsoft's (Windows) wav format, and in 1992 by the Moving Picture Experts Group's mp3 format (MPEG 1, Level 3). The competing RealAudio emerged in 1995. Software to play such files has included QuickTime (Apple, 1991); Windows Media Player (Microsoft, 1991); RealPlayer (RealNetworks, 1995); WinAMP (1997); MusicMatch (1997); and iTunes (Apple, 2001). By 2001, a typical consumer-level desktop computer included a hard drive of around 20 gigabytes (GB) capacity, which meant that a reasonable amount of music could be maintained on such a system, such as by "ripping" (copying the content of) CDs into a digital file format library played on that computer. Ripping CDs was easy because media companies did not copy-protect CDs in the same way that they had made it somewhat difficult to copy pre-recorded videotapes of movies.

Sharing and Copying of Music Data Files

With faster modem technology by the early 1990s, the BBS software-sharing approach (software shared in this way was generically known as "shareware" or "freeware") began to include the possibility of sharing binary data files of music recordings, often including copyrighted material. An uncompressed song could be downloaded over a telephone-based modem connection in several hours. Similarly, around the same time, Usenet newsgroups (using Network News Transfer Protocol or NNTP) began to provide access not only to music-related discussions but also to actual recorded music. This was the first relatively widespread (though still not mainstream) use of the Internet and computers to share copyrighted songs without the permission of the record companies or the artists, and without any payments being made to the copyright holders for these new copies. This was not a new issue, for people had already been copying LPs and cassettes for decades.

The 1997 Canadian solution to home-taping (presumably to account for the legal instances of personal undistributed copying) was a fee of 24 cents on each blank tape of 40 minutes or longer. Those funds (tens of millions of dollars) were distributed by the Copyright Board of Canada to the Canadian Private Copying Collective; two-thirds went to songwriters and music publishers and smaller amounts to performers and record companies. However, digital file sharing over the Internet did not become a relatively large issue until 1999.

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) has also been used to distribute music files, but this method results in more obvious (and potentially litigated) offerings than with Usenet. However, this method has allowed such independent artists as the Canadian Electronic Ensemble to make some of their music (eg, live performances) available to a larger audience than would otherwise have been able to hear their performances. For similar reasons, newsgroup binary lists have sometimes been allowed to continue their primary function of providing user-uploaded recordings.

Newsgroup discussion lists specifically relevant to Canadian music have included:,,,,,,,,, and

MP3 Format; High-Speed Internet
The World Wide Web and Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) emerged in the early 1990s and made information distribution and file sharing much easier, with such standardized programs as Netscape and Internet Explorer, and later, Safari and Firefox. The MP3 format became solidified as the most popular audio file format around 1998, partly because every audio program could play such files, and partly because the format quickly became ubiquitous on the peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing service Napster (1999-2001) and on such subsequent semi-centralized peer-to-peer software platforms as Kazaa, Limewire, and Morpheus, and such decentralized peer-to-peer software clients as uTorrent (which uses BitTorrent connections between anonymous users). Many audiophiles have argued and demonstrated that the compression schemes used to produce MP3 music files result in copies that do not sound as good as the original recordings, but most people with typical consumer audio equipment are content with near-CD quality.

Levies on Copying
In 1997, a copying levy of 21 cents was implemented for blank CDs. MP3 players and similar devices (eg, iPods) were later initially assessed a flat fee per device, but the fee was revoked in 2004. In 2007 the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) lobbied for the repeal of all copying levies, because it believed that such fees implicitly legalize the act of copying, which it considers illegal (despite the fact that the Copyright Act clearly protects the rights of individuals to make personal copies). However, these actions did not solve the problems posed by peer-to-peer file sharing on the Internet.

Impact of the Internet on Record Stores
The commercial growth of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s caused many traditional record stores to go out of business. This trend affected numerous smaller record shops, but also the nation's largest record chain, Sam the Record Man (1937-2001 with 130 stores), although its flagship downtown Toronto store survived until 2007. This substantial change in the way the music industry worked stemmed from several factors: a backlash to the inflated sales expectations of the major record labels throughout the 1990s, with the labels offering re-issues, re-packagings, re-masterings, etc.; the greatly increased emphasis of the same companies on marketing music-related videos; the consolidation into the Canadian market of such international retail media chains as HMV; and, especially, the growing availability of CDs and DVDs for sale over the Internet through websites such as File sharing was only one factor among several major factors that contributed to the decrease in conventional sales of recordings.

Search Indexes and File Sharing Tools
Many Internet users employ the search index isoHunt (founded in 2003 by Canadian Gary Fung) for BitTorrent file sharing. In May 2009 isoHunt was indexing more than 2 million torrents (distinct items including music, videos, TV shows, movies, software, etc.), comprising 56 million files, nearly 2 million GB of data, and attracting more than 24 million users--roughly the same number of users that Napster had at its peak in early 2001. Other MP3 services have frequently been launched from other countries, such as Russia.

The emergence in the late 1990s of high-speed Internet services (such as services over cable TV and telephone infrastructures) meant that a song could typically be downloaded from a peer-to-peer network over a high-speed Internet connection in a few seconds to a few minutes, the speed being mainly dependent on the number of users concurrently allowing other people to access the same file. Allowing people to access something is not the same as actively distributing it, so the question remains whether an individual's "Shared" folder constitutes private copying or distribution. Such file sharing tools as uTorrent and LimeWire get around this issue by using a computer's default "Downloads" folder (which can include purchased media and other unambiguously legal downloads).

Legal Decisions
In 2000, the US rock band Metallica found that its song "I Disappear" was being circulated on the Internet before it had been officially released. The band launched a lawsuit against Napster and several universities allegedly complicit in allowing their students to access Napster. Napster responded by banning 300,000 users believed to be sharing Metallica's songs. By comparison, in 2004 the Federal Court of Canada determined that because private copying of music is allowed in Canada, music file sharing was legal unless an individual sent out copies of such files or advertised that they were available for copying. That decision was set aside by the Federal Court of Appeal 19 May 2005, largely because Internet service providers (ISPs) in Canada cannot be compelled (as has been possible in the US) to reveal the names of individuals suspected of illegally distributing music. Thus, it was decided that there was insufficient evidence for a decision either way. (This is in contrast to the situation in the US, where 261 individuals were pursued in 2004, and in 2009 a woman was fined $1.92 million.) The Canadian federal elections of 2006 and 2008 delayed the introduction of amendments to the Copyright Act to make file sharing more firmly illegal.

In 2009, lobbying was underway to include a music and media copying levy on Canadian Internet connections through ISPs. Lobbyists in favour of levies of this sort have included the Songwriters Association of Canada and other groups involved in the Canadian music industry.

Legal Alternatives to File Sharing
Legal alternatives to file sharing include the iTunes Store opened in 2003 in the US and in 2004 in Canada, using the MP3-like, MPEG-4 AAC format; the comparable service provided by (using the MP3 format, but only in the US); the subscription-based eMusic (started in 1998, using the MP3 format and generally focusing on less-commercial music); the subscription-based Rhapsody (begun in 2001 and taken over by RealNetworks in 2003); a new subscription-based version of Napster (2003); and such industry-run websites as Universal Music Canada's The subscription services of Rhapsody and Napster use streaming file formats by which songs cannot be downloaded for use on various devices, although Napster provides an option to purchase files separately for download, as well as a subscription option for direct use on certain portable devices. An MP3 or similar compressed music file can usually be downloaded or streamed from a legal provider over a high-speed Internet connection within a few seconds.

In 2006, more than 1 million digital albums were sold in Canada, as well as nearly 15 million digital singles. By 2008, the iTunes Store had become the largest music retailer in the US, and by 2009 it had both removed the copy protection scheme that initially made it difficult to move music around among different computers and portable devices, and had increased the sound quality of most of its millions of available songs.

Portable Devices; Storage Capacity; Editing Software

By 2009, typical consumer desktop computer systems included hard drives of 320-500 GB, with notebook computer hard drives usually 160-320 GB. Very small portable devices (with flash memory) typically had 4-8 GB of storage (equivalent to a collection of 100-200 CDs). Portable devices based on hard-drive technology (such as newer "classic" iPods) had capacities of 60-160 GB (equivalent to 1400-3800 CDs). Some such devices (eg, iPhones, Internet-capable iPods, and many cell phones) can download music directly from the Internet, but many people also synchronize these devices with the libraries on their computers.

Audio-editing software, such as SoundForge (1994) and Cool Edit Pro (1997)--as well as professional audio/MIDI sequencing software, such as Cubase (as of 1991) and Logic (as of 1994)--made it possible to create and/or edit music files and to save them onto hard drives in relevant file formats, including formats suitable for distribution over the Internet. Additional later programs, including GarageBand (2002) and Audacity (2004, originally Cool Edit Pro) have similarly been used for remixes (changing aspects of a song, such as its percussion, form, or lyrics, as in Canadian Karl Wolf's 2008 version of the US band Toto's 1982 song "Africa"); mashups (combining substantial portions of two or more songs into one new song, such as 2004's "Annie Rush," by the UK's Go Home Productions); and podcasting. Numerous Canadian musicians have made use of such tools to create music and distribute the resultant music files on the Internet. In a related matter, the Canadian Music Creators Coalition (formed in 2006) opposed suing music fans who download music from file sharing services.

Usefulness of the Internet in Promoting Canadian Music

The vast majority of Canadian musicians (with or without a recording contract) have websites. Notable websites by representative major acts include those of Céline Dion, Crash Test Dummies, Molly Johnson, Sarah McLachlan, Kardinal Offishall, Rush, and The Tragically Hip. Some Canadian artists, such as Barenaked Ladies and Avril Lavigne, provide partial recordings, alternative takes, live performances, streaming videos, and live videos on their websites for free, but studio tracks and entire albums must generally still be downloaded from such websites as the iTunes Store. Most Canadian radio stations and other music-related broadcasters have websites, some providing music--either streamed from their broadcasts or as downloadable podcasts that can be listened to on such portable devices as iPods. In addition, since the late 1990s, the Internet itself has been used as a venue for streaming music as a form of radio.

The amount of Canadian music released 2003-5 increased by 8.8 per cent and grew to 21 per cent of total Canadian music sales, whereas the amount of music by foreign artists released in Canada dropped by 5.6 per cent. Despite the decline of pre-recorded music sales internationally starting in 1999, album sales among the top-selling several hundred Canadian artists increased by an average of 16 per cent per year 2001-5, proving that Canadians have become increasingly inclined to pay for downloading Canadian music.

See also: Internet, Law and the

Further Reading

  • "The download decade," Globe and Mail, various editions

    Jones, Christopher. "Metallica rips Napster," Wired, 13 Apr 2000

    Newton, John. "Canadian music creators speak out against file sharing lawsuits," TechNewsWorld, 26 Apr 2006

    Weeks, Carly and Lofaro, Tony. "Digital deterrents drive fans away, musicians' group tells politicians," Ottawa Citizen, 9 May 2006

    "Songwriters Association of Canada makes peer-to-peer proposal," Canadian Musician, Mar/Apr 2008