By now most people know the Napster story: people shared music for free, Metallica whined about it, and it got shut down. But this documentary goes deeper into the story of the infamous company, how it got started, and what lead to its downfall. And what you learn is how the media only provided the surface of the tale. There were so many more details and arguments most of the public didn’t get to see. They were concerned with setting up a villain and a hero. Of course, Napster was the villain. This film provides information from the creator, Shawn Fanning, people who were part of the company and lawsuit. What’s great about it is it presents all sides of the story and never feels like it’s trying to convince you Napster good, record companies bad.
Whether you think Napster’s instincts were good or bad the documentary gives the back story about how it started and what its original intentions were. While so many who were against the company felt it was all about getting music for free, the creators felt it was about creating a sense of community and sharing cool music with others who were passionate about it, similar to the views about pirating today. It was just two college kids who were savvy enough to create the program.
Not only are the main players in the rise and fall of Napster interviewed, there’s tons of news footage from the late 90s talking about the controversy. The best clips feature Trent Reznor, Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Spice Girls sharing their thoughts about Napster. The best part of course when Metallica comes into the story. It’s interesting to hear the different opinions on the software. Some thought it meant the death of music industry (though it wasn’t) while others thought it was a great way to get their music spreading. Depending on your stance on file sharing some of the arguments made against Napster are fucking hilarious and make it clear a lot of it was a generation of people not understanding the technology. There is also courtroom footage from the initial hearings where you can hear the final nail in the coffin.
Throughout you actually feel pretty bad for Fanning. Just imagine the amount of stress he was under when the RIAA started knocking and at only 19 years old. And you thought worrying about final term papers was a nightmare. A bit of this felt a bit manipulated since there was a random section providing Fanning’s not so perfect family background. It didn’t really fit into the story of Napster. This is more about the company, not a bio about those who created it. It’s even a bit more perplexing since none of the others involved received any of the same treatment. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that you feel pretty bad for him in the end.
It’s a captivating look at one of the most controversial moments of the 90s. For some viewers it’ll be a nostalgia ride. For others it’ll be at music history. One thing you will come away with is how Napster made way for pirating, which is facing similar backlash. Funny, how some things never change.