"Downloaded," a documentary film exploring the history of sharing music on the Internet, made its world premiere Sunday at South by Southwest, a festival that marries music, technology and film.
Director Alex Winter focuses on Napster, the file sharing network that allowed 25 million people to share 80 million recordings in what became an early social network. The service allowed users to download music for free from each other's computers until a lawsuit brought by the recording industry forced it to shut down in 2001.
But by then, a new generation had become accustomed to getting music for free, and the industry and musicians saw revenues plummet.
The founders of Napster, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, participate in the film, but Winter allows all sides of the debate over free music to make their cases, often using archival news footage.
"It wasn't hard for me to balance the two points of view, because I have two points of view," Winter said. "I don't think the old school is right to try to criminalize the downloading generation, and I don't think the downloading generation is right saying that everything should be free."
The story of Napster echoes today, as the Justice Department pursues the extradition of Kim Dotcom, the founder of MegaUpload, where users share videos. The New Zealander is accused of criminal violation of U.S. copyright laws and money laundering.
Fanning said it was tough to have a film made about something he did when he was a 19-year-old music fan.
"We didn't think we were doing something that was going to change the world," Fanning said. "Everyone online was contributing and sharing, and I didn't realize this fully while I was developing it, but that was the first time everyone on the Internet was publishing content. In the end everyone had a voice, and to see that that voice can have an effect was amazing."
Winter originally planned to make a feature film for MTV but after failing to win backing, decided to make a documentary for VH1. The network plans to broadcast the film next month.