MP3 or MP”Free”?

For the majority of millennials that grew up, MP3s were part of what made their days memorable. This audio file was a form of social connection between friends, an asset for parties, and a cure to bust boredom. It was a celebration of the noises, pitches, and voices that we as humans could connect to form the melodies which shaped the memories of our lives. According to scholar Jonathan Sterne, the MP3 “is an artifact that ‘works for’ and is ‘worked on’ by a host of people, ideologies, technologies and other social and material elements”. Unfortunately, questions surrounding the ethics of the convenience have been around for a great time now .  

The MP3 was made to compress sound files in a way to make them as small as possible without a significant loss in quality. This success allowed the massive sharing of these files on sites like Napster. Music lovers pounced, especially college students. However, the easy and free access to all of these songs allowed for some major problems. After all of the profit made by record stores, was it even “fair” for consumers to download Napster songs to their computers for free? The debate got to the courts, and in the summer of 2001, the ruling resulted in the complete shutdown of the service. This documentary explains the peculiar rise and fall of Napster. 


When we flash forward to 2017, we have multiple new “Napsters” that allow for free music listening.  A prominent example is YouTube.  People have developed apps and websites for ripping YouTube videos and creating MP3s to listen to any song on the immense website for $0.

From evidence like this article explaining the taking down of one of the more popular “Youtube to MP3” sites, we see that the industry is continuing to crack down on naughty services like this one. However, with the amount of other sites still like this on the Internet, including other online opportunities to listen to music for free, I doubt there will ever be a day where one could not be allowed to access any free online MP3s. Despite a volatile history, the MP3 remains the revolutionary file type of what was, and still is, an expressive tool to connect our passions and memories through our favorite sounds and songs.




“Napster Documentary: Culture of Free | Retro Report | The New York Times.” YouTube, Google, 8 Dec. 2014,

Sterne, Jonathan. “The mp3 as Cultural Artifact.” New Media and Society, vol. 8, no. 5, 2006, pp. 825–842. SAGE Publications,

“YouTube to MP3 Ripping Site Taken down by Music Labels.” What Hi-Fi?, Haymarket Media Group, 8 Sept. 2017,


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