I ran into Mike Weiss the other day at Digital Hollywood, and asked him how things at Streamcast Networks were going. Streamcast Networks has been the company behind the Morpheus file sharing client, and Weiss, Streamcast's long-time CEO, has been an outspoken critic of the entertainment industry as well as lone fighter in an epic legal battle with the major record companies, which is why I was more than a little surprised when he told me that he shut down the company back in April.

Morpheus has been largely ignored by the P2P community in recent years because it was forced to install filters to prevent unauthorized file sharing after losing against the entertainment industry in front of the US Supreme Court. However, Morpheus used to be at some point one of the if not the most popular file sharing client, so it's only appropriate to do a quick recap of its oftentimes turbulent history:

Morpheus started off as a Open Napster client back in 2000, operating two dozen or so Open Napster servers under the name of the Musiccity network. It switched to the Fasttrack network that was operated by Kazaa soon after, only to quickly become the most popular Fasttrack client, which also got the attention of the major record labels. The labels filed a lawsuit against Morpheus, Kazaa and Grokster, which at that time all shared the same network, in October of 2001.

Morpheus eventually had a fall-out with Kazaa in early 2002 when users of its client suddenly were unable to connect to the Fasttrack network. The makers of Morpheus at the time stated that Kazaa tried to get rid of unwanted competition, but Kazaa maintained that Morpheus just didn't pay its licensing dues on time.

Morpheus switched to Gnutella soon after but lost a large amount of its users to Kazaa as result of the controversy. Morpheus also implemented support for several other P2P networks, including Neonet, which was its own DHT network.

Streamcast obtained an important court victory against the entertainment industry in 2004, but the case was appealed and went all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with the major record labels in its now famous Grokster decision. Grokster itself folded soon after, Kazaa eventually settled with the entertainment industry, but Morpheus fought on.

Morpheus suffered another loss in court about a year ago when a US District Court in Los Angeles put pressure on the company to install effective filters. Part of the verdict was the appointment of a "Special Master" to "aid (the) decision of what constitutes the most 'effective' filtering regiment", as it was stated in the verdict.

Turns out, Special Masters don't just have great job titles, they're also really expensive. Weiss told me that his company had to pay several hundred thousand dollars per month, and that these prohibitive costs eventually forced him to pull the plug in April.

Some folks have wondered why Morpheus even resisted that long. Its product was barely usable due to the filters, its user base had shrunk to a minimum, and there was really no light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the legal fight. Seth Finkelstein mused last year that Streamcast may just have been hanging in there to eventually reemerge as another P2P company.

Streamcast did apparently have some plans to position itself as a solutions provider for P2P-powered social media platforms. I stumbled across a mock-up of a site called Faithsharingnetwork.com at some point that seemed to be an attempt to sell these service to niche markets, but now it looks like these attempts have died with Morpheus shutting down. The Morpheus website finally closed down this week, leaving almost no trace of the once so popular P2P client.

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