Downloaded- Theft or Technology By Megan Evans

In Downloaded, Alex Winter introduces us to Shawn Fanning. Shawn was a young college student who thought up the idea of a file sharing system that would allow MP3 files to be shared between computers.

Fanning grew up not really connecting with his family or friends on an intellectual level. He found solace in an online chat forum, IRC. There he met people he could relate to and who had similar interests. While talking to his roommate, he thought up the idea of Napster, a file sharing website.

Growing up during that time, I thought I knew Shawn and Napsters story. After watching this documentary, I found that I did not. Alex Winter’s documentary shows all sides of the rise and subsequent fall of Napster, and really the music industry as well.

Napster Logo

Winter spends most of the film focused on the dichotomy between Shawn Fanning, Napster, and the Record Industry. He showed Shawn and his friends as wide eyed kids who were just out to create a computer program to allow people to share music. Deep down did they know that they were facilitating piracy? I think they did. They seemed to hide behind the “File Sharing” statement over and over throughout the movie.

During the 90’s the internet was still relatively unknown. People thought it was a giant computer that we could use to get data. Most users of the internet were fairly young college students. That was the demographic that Shawn and his friends went after. Their idea to take the basic principle of IRC, connecting people, to a new level and begin connecting computers was brilliant.

Technology and the Music Industry

The record industry was caught completely unaware of this technology. The industry during the 90’s and early 2000’s had become giant corporations who focused on their profits and not on the artist’s creativity.

In the documentary, John Stewart, said “Today, the courts agreed. It’s the record companies who hold the patent on cheating musicians out of money” as part of his Comedy Central Show.

Director, Alex Winter focused on the Record Industry and RIAA as the big corporate meanies who were squashing Napster. The Huffington Post state that the music royalties became the focus of the story. “In a scene before a Senate committee Roger McGuinn of the Byrd’s explains how successful they were and how little they got paid. It made my heart break. Who earns the money? Who gets to keep it? Napster created a new possibility, the idea of an alternative system of reward.”

How did the Artists feel?

There was a wide disparage between the artists that they interviewed for the movie as well. It almost felt like a line from Jane Austin’s Emma “I love Napster, I hate Napster” If the artists weren’t making money from the Record Industry, why would they mind if Napster shared it for free?

Lars Ulrich from Metallica and Dr. Dre became the face of the artist opposition. Lars took reams of paper with the user names of the people he felt were stealing their music.

He stated that “He wasn’t holding those people accountable, but Napster for allowing their access to pirate Metallica’s music”. Dr. De wasn’t as poetic with his “F**k Napster”.

What is defined as Piracy?

The dictionary defines Piracy as “Internet Piracy - Computer Definition. (legal term) Using the Internet to illegally copy and/or distribute software, which is an infringement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA) in the United State. Napster felt that they were in the right because in their eyes they did adhere to the Digital Millennium Copy Right Act. But the courts did not seem to agree.

Was fighting Napster and the technology good for the Record Industry?

It turns out that it was not. The Record Industry took the fight to the courts and sued Napster. Believing that it was because they didn’t understand the technology, Napster went to court to defend themselves. In the end, after a long fight, and multiple attempts to change their base system, Napster shut down and would pay millions of dollars in restitution.

The gap between the music industry and the technology was too great to cross. Neither one really spent the time talking to the other. They were each in their corners ready for a fight.

The Future...

While ultimately what Napster was doing was legally considered wrong, the technology that Shawn Fanning and his partner Shawn Parker developed was amazing. Two college students created a revolutionary technology that rocked the world. What they were using it for was ultimately deemed piracy, but the basic principle of what they wanted to do was good. They wanted to create a community where people could share and listen to music. They tried to create versions that would ultimately pay the artists for their intellectual property, but by that time it was too late.

Shawn Fanning

Shawn Fanning went on the create several different sites from Snocap to Rapture, a computer gaming company. Shawn Parker went on to work with Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook and invest in Spotify.

Shawn Parker said at the end of the documentary “You assume that there must be someone out there who has the answers. The answers are being written,” You are the precedent”

While Napster didn’t ultimately succeed, the notion of downloadable, internet music has become a reality, from Steve Job’s development of ITunes, to Amazon Music for purchasing music all the way to streaming services like Spotify and I Radio, the music business has had to embrace technology. Really whether they liked it or not. The current generations live and die by their technology, and we want our music to be everywhere we are. So, thank you Napster, you paved the way for the future.


Grundy, Gordy “New Documentary, Downloaded , Tells the True Tale of Napster and the Impact on Our New Digital World” From The Huffington Post (24 June 2013, Updated 24 Aug 2013

The New York Times, “ Napster Documentary: Culture of Free|Retro Report| Web Dec 8, 2014

Suskind, Alex. “15 Years after Napster: How the Music Service Changed the Industry”. Web. 06 June 2014


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