Explaining the rise and fall of the Warez MP3 scene: An empirical account from the inside

Ard Huizing, Jan A. van der Wal


Warez is a virtual, global network of people copying, cracking and distributing copyrighted digital artifacts. This paper gives an empirical insider account of the waxing and waning of the Warez music sub-community known as the ‘MP3 scene’. Afforded by the MP3 file format, this playful yet proficient piracy practice grew exponentially from 1995 to 2004–2005, and then withered. Our objective is to explain both the rise and the fall of the MP3 scene. We argue that a self-motivating virtuous cycle of passion in We-mode, supported by technological and organizational factors, was the engine for growth. Unforeseen and unintended side effects of the same factors, however, gradually made this engine of passion come to a halt. The dominant mode of sociality had slowly shifted from a “We-mode” to an “I-mode” technoculture. The communal spirit kindling in the early years was replaced by a more market-like form of sociality. Technological and organizational arrangements can connect people, but may also disconnect them.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v19i10.5546

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