by Drew Kerr on May 10, 2013

in Documentaries,Film Festivals,Hot Docs


Downloaded (Director: Alex Winter): This insightful film, which made its inter­na­tional premiere at Hot Docs, looks at the rise, fall, and legacy of Napster, the peer-to-peer file sharing ser­vice that forever changed the music industry. Originally con­ceived as a dra­matic fea­ture by dir­ector Alex Winter (prob­ably best known as the Bill char­acter from the Bill & Ted movies), it evolved into a doc­u­mentary over the ten year period that Winter was involved on and off with the project.

Winter thor­oughly explores all aspects of his sub­ject, incor­por­ating an extensive number of archival clips with new inter­views from Napster oppon­ents which include music industry exec­ut­ives and artists like Beastie Boy Mike D, Henry Rollins, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D, along with the Napster side via inter­views with the service’s legal rep­res­ent­at­ives and the main fig­ures behind it, not­ably co-founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. The affable pair evoke more sym­pathy than you’d expect, dis­cussing the ideal­istic ori­gins of the ser­vice that “came from a very pure place,” as Fanning puts it, and them coping with the enormous scope of what they’d cre­ated, which included con­tending with numerous nasty legal battles with the music busi­ness over their enabling of wide-scale copy­right infringe­ment. It’s easy to forget over a decade later that Napster’s impact was incred­ibly swift — the service’s “heyday” lasted less than two years before it was effect­ively shut down in 2001, later being acquired by other com­panies as a means of legal music distribution.

Downloaded presents the most bal­anced and defin­itive sum­ma­tion of the Napster saga that I’ve ever seen or read, with a com­pel­ling David vs. Goliath dynamic and an abund­ance of thoughtful dis­cus­sion on the divisive issue of file sharing.


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