Napster was incredible. Ask anyone who remembers.
Peer-to-peer file sharing – a simple and brilliant idea flawlessly executed – gained tens of millions of fans in the span of months and simultaneously took down an industry. More than a decade later, that industry still feels Napster’s ripples.
Two guys under 20. Some venture money. Silicon Valley. Unprecedented growth. 9th circuit court of appeals. Super attorney David Boies. Then a BK.
What a story!
Not sure Napster’s story is fully told in Alex Winter’s documentary Downloaded, but there is more than enough here to fascinate any fan of music, silicon valley start-ups, or entrepreneurs.
The VH1-produced film gained some buzz at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) and is available for free download from AOL at http://on.aol.com/show/downloaded-517844010/main.
Told almost 100% by the key players who were there, Downloaded entertainingly zips along glossing over dozens of details worth closer examination. This is not a very deep film and Winter, an actor in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, does a journeyman’s job of simply telling the tale.
Founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker tell most of the story. Both were huge music fans and really, that was secret to Napster’s appeal. It was great for music fans. People like myself who had thousands of CDs, could now via dialup, share hard-to-find tracks in exchange for other hard-to-find tracks. It was fantastic.
Here was music I would gladly pay for, but was simply unavailable. Now with Napster was it not only available, but it was also free.
The record companies get off a little easy here with only modest demonization. Let us not forget that CDs price had risen to $16.99 in the late 1980s while their manufactured cost was less than a dollar. Fans and artists alike had much angst toward the music companies.
Attorney Boies, always articulate and interesting, makes no comments here. That might have raised the film’s profile.
Peer-to-peer bit torrents, which back-filled internet users need for free tunes once Napster was shut down, are neither mentioned or explained. Nor is there any mention of the Pirate Bay, the world’s most notorious P2P that was shut down in a dramatic raid by police.
But this is not a film that digs into the weeds of Intellectual Property (IP) rights on the internet. It simply tells the story of Napster.
And what a story it is.