HotDocs13: Downloaded (2013)

Napster changed everything. In may ways the original file-sharing program ushered in the true Era of the Internet: one where real-world laws no longer applied and young men with tech backgrounds proved their potential to change the world. Alex Winter’s Downloaded looks at the rise and fall of Napster. It lets Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker discuss the decisions behind the company and explores the implications of Internet culture they helped create.

Fanning and Parker remain controversial figures. They were just kids when they started Napster, thinking they were finally making the online world more connected. They wanted to usher in a new way to experience music, and they did, but nobody really knew it at the time. Napster would become the first online service to really rock the world to its core. Without Napster we wouldn’t have iTunes or Vuze or uTorrent or the Pirate Bay or grooveshark or soundcloud or any of the things we use on a day-to-day basis to free up our access to music. Downloaded brilliantly explores the concept of something being free online. If something is perceived as free, there’s no way to stop people from wanting it. The music industry destroyed Napster, but it couldn't destroy the way of thinking it created.

Set to rock music and clever stock footage, Downloaded offers an entertaining overview of Napster’s rise and fall, while featuring an intimate look at its two founders, Fanning and Parker. Comprised of interviews with the core Napster team, musicians, popular thinkers, and music industry regulators, the film gives a broad look at the specific story of Napster.

Probably the most impressive part of Downloaded is the sense it gives of documenting an important historical event. This seems odd for a moment, and then you realize that it’s dead on. The rise and fall of Napster is an important historical event. It was the dawn of the Internet as we know it, and a documentary like Downloaded gives it its due place in history.

Downloaded (2013)

Directed by Alex Winter.

8 out of 10