He originally envisaged and scripted it as a fictionalised drama, but Alex Winter has now decided to take the documentary route on his film about the rise and fall of peer-to-peer file sharing service Napster. The Social Network rather stole his narrative thunder, but backed by the VH1 division that made the awesome Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, Winter is confident that his story is still worth the telling.
"Napster and the birth of file sharing technology made possible everything from Wikileaks to the iPod to Facebook," Winter tells Deadline. "It became an expression of youth revolt, and contributed to a complete shift in how information, media and governments work. And it is a fascinating human story, where this 18-year-old kid invents a peer-to-peer file-sharing system, and brings it to the world six months later."
Napster was, of course, the company that first felt the full weight of the record companies' legal machines, after it allowed the free downloading of MP3s, resurrecting the old "home taping is killing music" debate, and famously much annoying Metallica's Lars Ulrich, among many others. It was thoroughly busted for facilitating mass copyright infringement in 2002, and now exists as a paid subscription service. Winter says that it was always intended to be a legal paid service like iTunes, working in tandem with the record companies, and only went rogue when short-sighted labels wouldn't give founder Shawn Fanning the time of day.
Fanning is involved with Winter's documentary, as is Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network), who was either a co-founder of Napster or just an early employee, depending on what you read. Label heads and musicians will also fill the roster of on-screen interviewees, and Winter promises a balanced film allowing both sides to "vent".
“It’s a grey area," says Winter. "I can understand Fanning’s side, but I can also empathise with the horror that Metallica felt when a single that wasn’t even finished ended up on the radio.”