Napster: The Invention of an Era By: Brittany Paige Ladd

"Downloaded": The story of Napster

With the invention of Napster in July 1999, the entire music industry would experience an incredible alteration. "Downloaded," created by Alex Winter, does a great job of portraying the events of the rise and fall of Napster in a way that keeps the viewers engaged but allows them to choose which side of the issue they want to be on. The movie itself prefers to take no specific side and remains ambiguous, but allows for the influence of both perspectives to shine through to the viewers. The film does this by seamlessly providing interviews with the creators of Napster, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, and other employees of Napster; interviews of music artists and record label executives; audio and video clips of witnesses, lawyers, and judges in the various court cases concerning Napster; and visuals of newspaper and website articles published during the time period of Napster's rise in 1999 to its eventual demise in 2001. The majority of the movie is produced with primary sources, which leads all the points and information being conveyed to be more poignant and thorough.

Winter seemingly wanted the audience to know that, no matter if Napster still exists or not, there is no turning back for the music industry. The impact has been made by the presence of Napster and the peer-to-peer sharing feature. Now that consumers have discovered it's possible, they are going to try to get as much free music as possible. Winter understands this as he portrays the initial ignorance of the founders of Napster of copyright laws, and the effect this ignorance had while Napster was being created. The way music executives and major record labels responded only worsened these labels in the eyes of consumers. The labels and executives handled this upset poorly, and the music industry is still feeling the effects of this failure to handle and respond to the situation properly today.

"most important, [Napster] irrevocably altered not only the way in which Americans absorbed music but also their belief system in what they should pay. the conviction theologically held by many boiled down to a single word: Nothing." -Clyde Haberman, the New York times

Interviews of Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker

The film provided viewers a first-hand perspective behind the minds of the creators by including interviews of Fanning and Parker and clips of the Napster team during the 2-year lifetime of the service. These interviews explained what they did and why they did it when they created Napster, as well as their thoughts throughout the legal battle and the struggle to keep Napster alive. This allows viewers to connect with Fanning and Parker and others who invested time and money into the creation of the revolutionary software.

"Hundreds of download programs have come and gone since 1999 (Limewire, Kazaa, BitTorrent, to name a few). Napster deserves credit for not just being the first, but for revolutionizing a new frontier in music consumption. Even today, its legacy and its effect on the industry are still very much in play." -alex Suskind, The daily beast

Interviews of music artists and record label executives

This is where the conversation and the text in the film changes. We hear from the perspective of multiple music artists, specifically from Dr. Dre and the band Metallica. We also hear, though, from the perspective of "outsiders looking in," analyzing the effectiveness of how music labels and artists handled the shift in the paradigm of the music industry. These interviews and perspectives given from executives and lawyers provide the reasoning behind the lawsuits and why Napster was so controversial and eventually shut down. They provide a background and more detail to what led these executives and artists to handle the lawsuits against Napster the way they did.

"Napster was relatively easy to condemn because the service was limited to trading music files and virtually all of the files actually traded at the time of suit were traded illegally." -the Stanford Law Review

The legality behind copyright and Napster

This is where we begin to see the mishandling of this situation in a large scale. The government and the companies didn't handle the presence on Napster properly. But also how would the government, or anyone in general, know how to handle this situation? It was large scale and involved up to a claimed 60 million Napster subscribers across all geographical boundaries, and the original idea of copyright infringement was thrown into question. No one knew where liability was supposed to be held anymore. Was it Napster? The companies who invested in Napster? The internet service providers? The millions of users who downloaded and shared files on Napster? Music artists and companies eventually blamed Napster and the creators of the program - they were the ones facilitating the seemingly illegal sharing.

"On one side, content providers such as artists, the entertainment industry, and self-described copyright 'optimists' argue that copyright law should be extended and modified to allow copyright holders to control all distribution and use of digital information," the University of Chicago Law Review said.

"According to the optimists, the free downloading and file sharing of music facilitated by Napster in nothing more than theft." -The University of Chicago law review


"Suing actual infringers is becomings passé in digital copyright law. In the digital environment, the real stakes so far have been in suing those who facilitate infringement by others. Copyright owners tend not to sue those who trade software, video, or music files over the internet." -The Stanford law review

"On one hand, digital technology makes it possible to make an unlimited number of perfect copies of music, books, or videos in digital form, and through the Internet individuals may distribute those digital works around the world at the speed of light," the University of Chicago Law Review wrote in 2002. "As demonstrated by Napster, the controversial peer-to-peer music sharing network, this combination makes it possible for users to share music and other works without paying for them - thus depriving copyright holders of revenue that they might otherwise have received if individuals purchased those works in tangible form."

Although the music labels, artists, and executives had a seemingly good right to sue Napster and attempt to shut it down, they didn't realize it was already to late. This was available on the Internet globally, it was never going to go away. So instead of suing Napster for all the money it had and shutting it down, negotiating a deal would have better served the interests of everyone, including the government and consumers.

"There is of course a good reason copyright owners are suing facilitators. They see themselves as under threat from a flood of cheap, easy copies and a dramatic increase in the number of people who can make those copies. The high volume of illegal uses, and the low return to suing any one individual, make it more cost-effective to aim litigation at targets as far up the chain as possible," the Stanford Law Review wrote in 2004.

"From the perspective of the music industry, it was easier and more effective to shut down Napster than to sue the millions of people who illegally traded files on Napster." -the Stanford law review

How these combine effectively- how their point gets across

The film tells the story of the innovative program Napster created by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. Despite the issues and controversy behind the program, the film still portrays the intense effect the program had on the technology industry, music industry, and political world across the globe. Any assumptions of perceived reliability and copyright in the digital world before the invention of Napster were thrown out. The film does an incredible job of showing this effect- no matter whose she the viewer decides to take.

Works Cited

Haberman, Clyde. "Grappling With the 'Culture of Free' in Napster's Aftermath." The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Dec. 2014. Web. <>.

Lemley, Mark A., and R. Anthony Reese. “Reducing Digital Copyright Infringement without Restricting Innovation.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 56, no. 6, 2004, pp. 1345–1434.,

Raymond Shih Ray Ku. “The Creative Destruction of Copyright: Napster and the New Economics of Digital Technology.” The University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 69, no. 1, 2002, pp. 263–324.,

Suskind, Alex. "15 Years After Napster: How the Music Service Changed the Industry." The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 06 June 2014. Web. <>.


Created with images by FirmBee - "mobile phone iphone" • Gellinger - "radio old tube radio" • Unsplash - "record player disk" • Amigos3D - "k7 plastic magnetic tape" • AMagill - "Cross-polarized CD" • smoothy-shadow - "Artwork Napster Violet"

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.