The issue of the means through which it can be allowed for music online to exist, and the legality and commercial nature of these programs, has proven to be highly contentious in the era of the widespread availability of online services. The music industry has long based its business model on technology which was difficult or nearly impossible to reproduce effectively as a viable means for gaining music without much in the way of cost. As analogue methods for sounding recording have been edged out and supplanted by increasingly flexible and accessible digital technology, culminating in the current period in online music, the record industry has found itself less and less assured of its ability to control the dissemination of the music it finances and thus less capable of assuring a high profit margin for backers and investors. Though there is much music online and readily available in the contemporary digital landscape, it has not occurred with past and ongoing dissent on the part of the recording industry against the means for online music, which has taken a number of different forms, including various legal charges and suits, and has been accorded a mixed reception in terms of its ability to change the behavior of online music fans.
Some long time observers of copyright issues and record industry practices have charged that the strategies adopted by music label executives in regards to the availability of music online without charge have been overly punitive and rather than impressing upon music enthusiasts the ethical dimensions involved in making the decision to act in downloading online music without making any form of financial compensation to the record label or to the artist, the effect of the overall corporate legal strategy has been to exacerbate the issues posed to the record industry business model by the easy access to available music online and drive a wedge in the world of popular music between its business and fanbase ends, with the most negative consequences being felt by artists and bands who have an increasing difficulty in wresting a living from their work in the overall context of online music. A notable early instance of music being offered for free download without the consent of artists or record labels occurred in the case of the Internet service Napster.com, which became hugely popular among music consumer as a source for illegal but readily accessible music online before being confronted with crippling lawsuits, from which it emerged under the wing of the record industry but with a consequently diminished ability to appeal to music fans. A more popular source for online music can now be found in the form of the popular peer-to-peer websites, which offer access to music online through a far less centralized model than was employed by Napster in providing its services to music fans. Lower quality but less potentially risky forums for music downloads can be found on YouTube videos with audio enabled, which on occasion attract the opprobrium of labels and artists.