Josiah Hughes for Exclaim:
The invite-only torrent site was created in the wake of Oink’s Pink Palace, which was shut down in October of 2007. Though it was a hub for illegal downloading, What.CD hosted many different genres of music, making it a paradise for fans of obscure and hard-to-find music. Even music industry villain Martin Shkreli was begging for an invite last month.
The What.CD statement claims that they shut down “due to some recent events.” According to Zataz, 12 of the site’s servers were seized in the north of France. The founder of What.CD, however, is believed to reside in the United Kingdom.
What.CD obviously wasn’t legal, but I sincerely doubt that there has ever been a single greater collection of music than what was available there. Beyond the newest releases lay a vast library of music unavailable by any other means: out-of-print and rare albums, music that had never been officially released, and tracks from indie bands previously only known in small towns. Then there were the artist recommendations and the album collages, with suggestions and pairings that remain unparalleled by any legal streaming service.
Beyond the legality of it, there are a host of ethical and moral dilemmas associated with participating in a community like What.CD’s. Nobody there is entitled to any of the albums posted on the site. But there was always something magical about listening to a record that had previously never been heard beyond a handful of people anywhere on earth, and doing so alongside a group of people who were equally excited. There were loads of different versions of albums, too — it was never a simple matter of downloading a record when users made available various vinyl pressings, CD masters, and online download copies.
All kinds of people were What.CD members, from record store employees to young listeners; from hardcore collectors to popular musicians. Above all, it was a community of fans that grew organically. You might never have heard of What.CD, or — understandably — frown upon piracy like this. But, for a lot of music nerds, today’s news has been heartbreaking.
See Also: The leak of three previously-unpublished J.D. Salinger stories that surfaced on What.CD in 2013.