November 20, 2014


Alex Winter, 2013
This documentary focuses on the creation, rise and ultimate of music service Napster - which rose to rapid popularity in the days of the dot-com boom in the late 1990's.

Anyone in their early 30's is very familiar with the effect that Napster had on the music world. It came out of nowhere and then spread like wildfire. It disrupted the entire music industry, certainly kept the record executives awake at night. One of the first, surprising elements of Downloaded is you realize how small Napster actually was. At first it was really just a couple of guys, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, who had an idea. It wasn't that they were out to screw over the RIAA. They weren't out to make millions and millions of dollars overnight. They were just a couple of smart kids who had some foresight as to how things were eventually going to go in terms of technology and music. The origin of Napster wasn't in a dark conference room with a group of shifty figures. Instead, Shawn Fanning was an amateur coder/hacker who was in a small office space spending nights on the floor of his work-space in a sleeping bag.

The hero and the villain of the story are not so well-defined. There are a lot of gray areas with Napster in terms of ethics. But you could easily make the argument that Parker and Fanning are the heroes of the story, and that the RIAA is the villain. The RIAA wanted it to be business as usual. They went into panic mode when their revenue streams were threatened. Instead of looking into ways to evolve and work with the disruptors, they ended up going after the very customers who had been supporting them for so many years. They sued the young people who were spending all of their allowance money on $20 CD's so that they could have another addition on their house, or another gold watch on their wrist. The RIAA, Lars Ullrich, Dr. Dre... they all come off as the dinosaurs. Dr. Dre is particularly critical of Napster and in pure hypocritical fashion, years later we see the creation of The Beats streaming service headed by him. Downloaded certainly zeroes in on an interesting but rather short-lived period in American Culture. It's nostalgic, and also surprising to look back after not so many years and really see how radically different things are now in terms of how we get our music delivered to us. Napster was without a doubt the harbinger of such convenience and accessibility.

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