This post originally appeared on VICE UK.
It all started with Lars Ulrich. Before he sued Napster back in 2000 and won, illegal downloading wasn't even illegal. No one really knew what it was. But after that case, hundreds of aggrieved musicians, record labels, and countries tried to stop people like me downloading Limp Bizkit's back catalog for free. Just yesterday Isohunt, a pirate website that didn't actually host any MP3s itself but just had a directory for websites where you could download them, was ordered to pay about $50 million to a music-industry group called "Music Canada." The UK government is planning on putting the maximum sentence for online piracy up to ten years inside for the most serious offenses, according the Office of Intellectual Property.
Of course, when Napster launched, places like Virgin Megastores and Tower Records were charging in excess of $20 for an album and often more for a film or box set. The entertainment industry generally treated the public with disregard, and people felt ripped off. So there was a fair amount of delight in sticking it to them and downloading terabytes worth of free songs. If you need a comparison for this day and age, imagine if someone built another railway line right next to every Amtrak train track and then ran the service for nothing, and then Amtrak came out and said, "Yes we know the free track is there, but the moral thing to do is support us."
Eventually the music industry worked out that it couldn't just bash people with the proverbial stick, and it created the carrot of way cheaper legal downloading and streaming services, while also going around closing down the websites that had almost destroyed its business.
That tactic pretty much worked, and today I, like everyone else, am more than happy to wrestle with the extensive catalogs of YouTube and Spotify rather than endangering my computer with dodgy software. But I do wonder what happened to those old pirate websites, whether they still exist in some kind of internet graveyard or whether they have all been expunged.
So, as I was feeling particularly blue this week, I decided to try download Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" for free on every old pirate website, to see if any of them had sprung back up in my absence.
First up, the guys that started it all, Napster.
This is what you get when you get on to the Napster website these days: some generic looking music-streaming site in the guise of Apple Music or Spotify. Apparently after getting chinned by years of high-profile lawsuits, Napster decided to shut down its original pirate incarnation. But after getting bought out by US electronic retailers Best Buy, and later merging with Rhapsody, it has since rebranded itself as a paid for streaming service (a.k.a. sold out to the fucking system, man). I won't be finding a free copy of a classic folk ballad here.
Next I tried Pirate Bay, but when attempting to log in to site, I just got a list of directories to other sites.
I clicked on some of the sexier sounding ones like "fastpiratebay.co.uk" and the more official sounding "thepiratebay.uk.net" but every time was met with a "site can't be reached" page. Turns out the Swedish site, after numerous raids on its offices, lawsuits, and arrests, has been blocked in a number of countries and also banned from being mentioned on social media sites like Facebook. I mean, I could easily circumvent these blocks using TOR or any other kind of dark-web browser, but dammit, I'm not Jonny Lee Miller in Hackers. I'm just in need of a quick fix of Garfunkel balm to ease my troubled mind, and so I moved on.
When I was growing up, the main bad boy of the downloading game was always Limewire. Sure, it had more viruses than you could shake a stick at and was horribly slow, but it was always user-friendly. So it was a massive shame when I tried to click on www.limewire.com only to be met with another "site can't be found" page. I started having a look at various downloadable options and almost went for the one below, but then thought about how many viruses used to fuck up my computers back in the day and had a little pause.
After doing some research, I found that Limewire had actually been shut down way back in 2010 after more lawsuits and court hijinks, so there were no new working versions available. Various wikis explained that not only do old versions not work, they also have many trojan horses in them, and I didn't want to take the risk and not be able to finish the rest of this article.
So instead I tried Kazaa, the even more virusey Limewire alternative.
Oh right, shit.
Finally then, to Soulseek, trusty old Soulseek. Soulseek was the worst-looking, least user-friendly of the big P2P networks. It was the illegal downloading site your older brother used. Perhaps for that reason people didn't seem that bothered about knocking it off the internet and whaddayaknow, it's still operational.
It offered me a free download of the program. After opening the file, my firewall protector went a bit nuts, but was I about to back down now, when I was so close to the mellifluous sounds of S&G? No way. So I proceeded to search for the seminal 1964 track, and boy was I not disappointed. A a whole bunch of versions came up straight away.
And it wasn't like the old days either. There was no waiting around with a cup of tea for it to download. Thirty seconds later, look what happened:
Yes! Finally, after a whole three hours or so of being rejected by various old pirate websites, I was let back in by the sweet and loving embrace of Soulseek. I was now free to enjoy the tender and heartbreaking sounds of the "Sound of Silence" at my leisure, just like I used to do with Limp Bizkit all those years ago.
So what do we know now? First, let me unreservedly apologize to Simon and Garfunkel. I have deleted the song off my computer and am now listening to it for free on YouTube instead, for which I'm sure you will receive 0.0003 cents. Second, the music industry has done a great job of making illegal downloading so hard and annoying and made streaming so easy that it doesn't even need to finish shutting down the remaining sites because who wants to spend three hours going through each one seeing which works. And third, this remains the greatest song ever written:
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