Downloaded (NR)

Documentary 106 July 28, 2013
By Alan Scherstuhl
"You cannot build a business on copyright infringement," Ian Rogers, CEO of Topspin, points out not too long into Downloaded, director Alex Winter's too-breezy account of Napster, the teensy app that liberated digital music, destroyed the record industry, and swallowed some $500 million from investors convinced that a start-up built to facilitate the free sharing of mostly pirated material was somehow bound to be wildly profitable. What an age that was: angels expecting huge yields after investing cash into exactly the opposite of capitalism. The doc is only about as revealing as a middling magazine article on the subject. But it will fascinate and frustrate anyone already interested, which, going by Napster's own high-water mark, is a good 50 million people. Winter introduces the principals, college-age programmers Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, digs into their childhoods and dutifully traces their baby's rise and fall. As the principals chatter about Napster's promise in archival and present-day footage, it's almost possible to believe that they swallowed their own hype--that the free downloading of uncountable songs and albums was incidental to some grander breakthrough in human communication. "Napster's helping, and not hurting, the recording industry and artists," CEO Hank Berry testified to credulous senators. Even in fresh interviews, Fanning and company play dumb about what their brilliant file-swap program actually did: It was about building community, they claim, about helping new artists find an audience. It was, Fanning says, about sharing "emotion." Archival footage is well chosen, especially '90s MTV News segments, all canted angles and dirty-fingernailed grunge stars, and Daily Show clips of a young Jon Stewart, who hadn't yet picked up the habit of yelling everything.
Alex Winter Henry Rollins, Noel Gallagher, Mike D, Chris Blackwell, Lawrence Lessig, Seymour Stein, Hilary Rosen, John Perry Barlow, Don Ienner Alex Winter Maggie Malina, Alex Winter Abramorama Entertainment

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