AUSTIN (CULTUREMAP) - By Austin Sanders, CULTUREMAP
As the struggle to control online piracy continues throughout the world, South By Southwest film-goers will have the chance to look back at the peer-to-peer service that started it all. Napster, the infamous file-sharing company that made waves throughout the digital world in the early 2000s, has long since been relevant — its attempts at a paid model have failed to catch on — but its impact on the Internet, the music industry and the digital revolution as a whole can still be felt today.
Actor/filmmaker Alex Winter ( Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) has been working on a new documentary titled Downloaded: The Digital Revolution, that examines the rise and fall of the groundbreaking company. He's bringing a special sneak peek of the film, along with a panel discussion with Napster co-founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, to SXSW this year that promises to shed light on the innovation the company helped inspire, illegal or otherwise.
"The documentary approach really allowed the fractal nature of the story to be exploited ... Unlike a narrative, there's no need to strictly adhere to one journey."
The film, produced by VH1's Emmy award-winning series Rock Docs, delivers insight from all sides of the music spectrum, from artists such as Noel Gallagher, Henry Rollins and Mike D to label executives Chris Blackwell and Seymour Stein and EFF co-founder JP Barlow.
The range of commentators ensures a balanced view of the issue, instead of the open hatred — and misunderstanding — for file-sharing services often found within the music industry.
What started as a dramatized retelling of Napster's huge success and subsequent legal battles (a la The Social Network) has morphed into a more diverse documentary project. Winter says of this switch, "The documentary approach really allowed the fractal nature of the story to be exploited ... Unlike a narrative, there's no need to strictly adhere to one journey."
A wise decision, considering how complex of a struggle the Napster problem represents: On the one hand, the advent of digital distribution brought on by the company has been critical in the success of services such as iTunes or Spotify, yet developing a way to protect intellectual property from piracy is one legislators are still wrangling with today. The documentary format allows Winter to explore all of these points, for better or worse.
Winter's film represents the perfect marriage of SXSW Interactive and SXSW Film; a thorough examination of a pressing social and technological issue, followed up by discussion with two of the people responsible for shaping the digital landscape we currently occupy today.
The film and panel will take place Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center Room 18ABC.
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