MP3 enables the digitization of high-quality audio to small files. File sizes are small enough to easily store many or transfer them over the internet, even with 1990s slow transfer speeds. The small file size is primary the benefit of MP3 over digitized compact disk file because MP3 files are much smaller with good enough quality.

In 1992, Karlheinz Brandenburg – working on his Ph.D. thesis – explored encoding a digital stream over an ISDN data phone line. Patent examiners rejected a patent application because they deemed the technology impossible.

In 1998 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) called for standards in audio and video encoding. That team used the monkier Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG).

Brandenburg and AT&T’s Jim Johnston worked together for a compression algorithm that maintained sound quality, trying over a thousand variations.

In 1992, ISO releases MP3 as a standard. For the most part, the world ignored it.

However, in 1995, as the world wide web was exploding, browser makers decided to support a file extension for encoded audio. They agreed on MPEG, Level 3, and the file extension, MP3.

By 1997, use of MP3 was exploding. However, users ignored both Brandenburg’s IP rights and also the rights of the music they were encoding. By 1999, with the launch of Napster, Brandenburg and the Fraunhofer Institute all but lost control of the technology they developed. IP infringement was rampant.

MP3’s still exist though other encoding technologies offer smaller files with high-quality sound. Piracy is less rampant due to consumer preferences for streaming, enabled largely by broadband and cheap mobile data.