Like most of the other segments of the commercial media landscape, the record industry based its financial model for most of the 20th century on the hierarchical nature of its system for allowing access to products. Vinyl-based technology, in particular, facilitated the ability of the record industry to restrict its products from being freely reproduced and disseminated by people other than themselves. Free music has increasingly become the bane of the pop music industry, however, with the shift to distribution formats more easily reproduced by even casual fans, along with the development of online information pipelines that can enable free music downloads to be enacted easily through Internet browsers and personal computers. While in the past the primary means for gaining exposure to the moment’s most popular music consisted of radio broadcasts and paying for copies of recording in local record shops, the modern information landscape favors those who have no legal or ethical qualms regarding free music. Though relatively harsh penalties have been enacted against some of the individuals and organizations involved in making free music downloads available, it is still a fairly safe field for people who are aware of the potential dangers posed by both the legal watchdogs of the record industry dedicated to preventing the dissemination of free music and the malicious programs which may be released onto your computer by trusting in the reliability of the person supplying free music downloads to you. Though the moral questions involved in this issue will have to be decided by the individual music consumer, every Internet user should be aware of the variety in which free music can exist on the Internet and the differences in degrees of safety and effectiveness that different delivery systems can be relied up to provide.
One of the earliest and most prominent sources for free music downloads existed in the form of the online service Napster.com, which provided access to a wide range of free music. It thus attracted large degrees of public and media attention in regard to the threat it was felt to pose to the profitability of the record industry as a going concern in business. A lengthy and complex court battle tied up the website and eventually resulted in it taking a new form that had the approval of the record industry but was distrusted by music fans as a source for free music downloads. The next form taken by the availability of free music on the Internet was that of the commonly used distribution system of peer to peer websites, combined with the services of such functions as bittorrent trackers, which decentralized the delivery system for free music and thus made the record industry’s task of policing and preventing it much more difficult. As to a platform for free music downloads that is, if not completely compatible with the wishes of the music industry and allowed under the law, many mp3 blogs exist that generally offer only one or several sample tracks from an album.