20 years on, the impact of the original iPod is plain to see

It’s 20 years since Apple’s iPod bridged the gap between computers and entertainment, bringing music into the internet age.

Apple didn’t invent the portable digital music player but, as with many technologies since, it took an existing clunky idea and polished it for the masses. The slick iPod kicked off a digital revolution in 2001 with the slogan “1000 songs in your pocket”, forever changing our relationship with music.

The original iPod was first sold in Australia in November 2001.

The original iPod was first sold in Australia in November 2001.Credit:AP

While it seems like an obvious smash hit now, at the time the iPod was an enormous gamble for a struggling computer maker which was trying to take on the consumer electronics giants.

There was one slight problem: Australian law was still stuck in the analogue age. There was no legal way for us to get music onto our iPods, as we couldn’t buy music for the iPod online and we weren’t allowed to “rip” our CDs to our computers and copy across the songs.

So we all became music pirates, happily ripping our CDs while the government turned a blind eye until it eventually changed the copyright laws in 2007. The anti “format-shifting” laws aimed to thwart piracy, but in some ways they encouraged it by denying us legitimate alternatives.

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Of course, by all rights, Sony’s iconic Walkman should have gone on to dominate the portable digital music scene. Sony blew its chance thanks to its obsession with painfully cumbersome digital rights management; fighting piracy by treating paying customers like criminals. Sony even used some rather underhanded tricks to stop people ripping their own CDs.

The arrival of Apple’s iPod forced lawmakers, gadget makers and music makers to all move with the times. The iPod spawned the user-friendly iTunes Store for buying music online, which eventually led to the rise of all-you-can-eat streaming music services like Spotify. Most people lost their taste for piracy once it became easier to pay for music than steal it.

It was a similar story with movies and television shows. Australians still aren’t allowed to rip our DVDs, but the arrival of streaming services like Netflix made it clear that the best weapon against piracy is to give people a decent alternative at a fair price.


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