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The unfortunate demise of What.CD

“You’ve stumbled upon a door where your mind is the key. Find yourself, and you will find the very thing hidden behind this page. Behind here is something like a utopia – beyond here is What.CD. This is a mirage.”

Here lies the now defunct introductory message of What.CD; a recently destroyed, questionably legal, file sharing internet domain which left its mark as a major influence on the changing consumer tactics utilized by the music industry over the past 10 years.

Like a great assassin, What.CD did its liberating damage from the shadows. Living between the cloaked recesses of the deep web and the surface web, it managed to negate purveyors of consumerism and provide its users with easy to access musical bliss at the click of a download button.

Thriving on its status as a private platform that only let those fortunate enough to gain membership to feast from its menu of music, What.CD was indeed “something like a utopia” for many music connoisseurs and collectors.

On Nov. 17, French authorities seized What.CD’s servers, forcing the site’s administrators to destroy all of its data in order to protect the identity of each member. What was once a great demonstration of community and culture is now a fragment of data and imagination. What.CD had held, dispersed and protected upwards of over a million beautiful and rare records, many of which, after the site met its sudden demise, may be gone forever.

This sad turn of events brings to mind John Oliver’s recent conclusion to the latest season of “Last Week Tonight.” Oliver made an homage to the plethora of horrible things that occurred over the past year that made us want to scream aloud, “F*** You 2016!”

The destruction of What.CD, a home for not only “.torrent” file sharing but also for an amassed collection of ideas, thoughts and sounds unlike any existing before, is just another prominent tick on the list of reasons to flip the bird at this year.

What was the significance of What.CD and why has its tragic closure caused its past users to fall into a state of lamentation? The peer to peer website held a great place in the lives of internet users who felt that services like Spotify and iTunes were selling an easily transferable form of digital content that did not have any realistic value and was therefore not worth paying for.

Many What.CD users instead utilized the website as a way to see if they would enjoy a record or not before purchasing it. If they did, then grabbing a vinyl copy was a common next step. Beside the fact that What.CD had an undeniable hand in the resurgence of vinyl that has occurred over the past 10 years, it more importantly gave those who believe that they have the right to do with their computers and data as they please an outlet and source to build around.

Countless peers came to rely heavily on What.CD as it was built up and sustained by its members. With each user providing their individual form of investment into the site, its loss has left a gaping void within those proud of the musical collection that they had organized and amassed.

As comments on the What.CD’s Twitter page convey, a prominent reason that users are so saddened about losing What.CD is because they were never able to properly bid the site farewell. It was impossible to see its imminent demise from afar, and therefore the sudden end to this great masterpiece of file sharing has become a much harder hit to take.

In hindsight, the administrators of What.CD always accepted and conveyed the idea of the fragility of the collection they were amassing. They knew that they were working outside the boundaries of the law and that nothing great was meant to last forever. “This is a mirage,” insisted the old opening message of the site, and little did most realize how apt a warning this was to heed.

What.CD has left many lives as would a mirage, providing an intoxicatingly blissful realm within which to shortly dwell, and leaving without a trace of any existence behind.

In closing the page on What.CD, many file sharers hope for a different page to be opened. Though its massive musical data bank is gone, its minute pieces rest within the hands of all of us who own and store music that is waiting to be shared.

The internet may one day be a source of free data in which anything may be sent to anyone without consequences and monitoring of great governmental powers. Until this dream becomes a reality though, let us continue to share with one another the great things we have obtained, and push forward towards the utopia that What.CD set out to create 10 short years ago.

William Plotnick can be reached at wplotnick@umass.edu.

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