By Robert Abele
7:29 PM EDT, June 26, 2013
Alex Winter's documentary "Downloaded" charts the rise and fall of Napster, the upstart file-sharing music-community hub that made founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker into either Information Age heroes or criminal masterminds, depending on how you see technology as a force for cultural openness.
The movie prefers the hero moniker, presenting this '90s story as a rise-and-fall tragedy in which Napster — had it not been hampered by crippling lawsuits stemming from the recording industry's siege mentality about its business — could have become iTunes before iTunes. It sometimes gives "Downloaded," which is part of VH1's rockDocs series, the feel of a company video for a company that no longer exists.
But as iffy as the coulda-been premise is, "Downloaded" is still a vigorous retelling of Fanning's and Parker's wildfire achievement and its ethical pitfalls, even if there's little in the way of journalistic balance. Contextualizing insight about Napster's game-changing impact comes from the likes of Henry Rollins and professor Lawrence Lessig, while the inside stuff — the highs and lows of being young, inventing a business model that turns on your peers but scares those in power — marks the enlightening interviews with Fanning, Parker and other core Napsterites.
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing at: Sundance Sunset Cinemas in Los Angeles.
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