Those interested in the development of the internet should find Downloaded (2013) fascinating. It documents the rise and fall of Napster, and in turn the huge role it played in shaping the way we now think about content on the web.
The guys at Napster were certainly trailblazers — that cannot be argued. I myself experienced a brief taste of Napster in late 2000, and it was impressive. But the entire system was built as a house of cards. Though the supporters of music file sharing and specifically Napster espoused the beauty of a free, open and democratic community where little-known bands and old, rare tracks not available on CD could be found by anybody and discussed in chatrooms, the truth was that the majority of users were blatantly stealing copyrighted music.
The movie included a clip of Jon Stewart making a joke about how only the record companies had the right to screw over musicians, and he had a point. And there seemed to be a great deal of benefit to some smaller acts who would not have received anywhere near the level of exposure if left to the benevolence of the music industry. But the bulk of Napster use consisted of free-for-all theft of songs performed by musicians and produced, marketed and distributed by record companies. Yes these companies take a hefty cut, but without them the songs that were being pirated would never have been made or distributed in the first place.
So all the democratic ideals surrounding Napster were corrupted by widespread copyright infringement on a scale never before seen. The David vs. Goliath or Robin Hood analogies rang hollow as Napster pilfered hard-working musicians rich and poor alike. The house of cards got knocked tumbling down, and in its wake was born iTunes and iPod, and now the emergence of customized internet radio.
Downloaded aired Sunday night on VH1. It began by running commercial-free for 15 minutes, which made me briefly think that VH1 was really running this as a movie, i.e. uncut and with limited commercial breaks. Boy was I wrong. The run time is listed as 106 min., but the way VH1 was bombarding the movie with ads there’s no way more than 80 min. was actually shown, if that. So shame on VH1, and thank god for the DVR.
Given the hacked-up showing that I viewed, I will not render a rating for Downloaded, so let’s just say thumbs up. Try to catch it if you find the subject interesting.