What.CD shut down permanently yesterday, leaving its thousands of users searching for an alternative. If you’ve never heard of What.CD, it was an invite-only private torrent sharing website that was primarily used for pirating music, but also provided torrents for ebooks and software. One user described the site as “the biggest digital repository of music the world has ever seen,” comparing its closure to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.
What.CD rose to popularity immediately following the raid and subsequent closure of its predecessor Oink in 2007. At the time, many users felt that What.CD could never become as big as Oink was, but the site grew very quickly, and by 2010 it had reached one million torrents. By the time of its termination, it had become the largest private torrent tracker in the world.
The site was heavily criticized for operating illegally, with many arguing that pirating music takes money out of artists’ pockets. The site was also condemned by some for providing records before their official release dates. In 2009, Radiohead’s “These Are My Twisted Words” was leaked early on What.CD, but hints hidden within the files and Radiohead’s history of clever marketing, many believed the band was leveraging the popularity of the site by releasing it there first themselves.
But the site has also been touted as the best source for rare, obscure and hard to find releases. What.CD supported independent music through its release of several popular compilation albums containing user-created music. Its robust discovery features, collages, audiophile quality files, and the ability to request rips from other users facilitated its growth.
But now it’s all over. Yesterday, after a two year investigation, French authorities seized twelve servers allegedly tied to the torrent site. What.CD claims to have destroyed all their data to protect its users.
Due to some recent events, What.CD is shutting down. We are not likely to return any time soon in our current form. 1/2— What.CD (@whatcd) November 17, 2016
All site and user data has been destroyed. So long, and thanks for all the fish. <3 2/2— What.CD (@whatcd) November 17, 2016
The future of private torrent tracker sites is up in the air, with many speculating that just as Oink users migrated to What.CD, a new player will soon emerge to corral the thousands of users left in the lurch. But with the rise in popularity of streaming services and changes in digital music comsumption habits, what happens next is anyone’s guess.