Social Network: What Happened to the Napster Film?

"Social Network" is a genius film, largely due to the acting and Aaron Sorkin's screenplay. It's so good, you don't notice the music, which is a true sign of a great collaboration between composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and director David Fincher. Despite all the hype about the soundtrack, which is of course extremely well done, film music is supposed to compliment, not distract.

It is near impossible to make a good film about a current topic, but "Social Network" tells the universal story of an awkward boy genius, who really just wants to win over the girl, and creates a technological revolution as a result.

In a fantastic turn as an actor, Justin Timberlake plays Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, and devilish mentor to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg).

My favorite line in the film is when Parker brags about the success of Napster, to which Zuckerberg's then business partner Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield) replies dryly that the record labels won the $35 million lawsuit, not Napster.

Parker smiles and says, "Want to buy a Tower Records store?"

This line makes any music executive feel like they've been sucker punched in the gut. The truth hurts.

The record industry won the battle, but Napster won the war. Like Parker points out in the film, since the proverbial illegal file-sharing genie was let out of the bottle, physical record sales have plummeted, all major record store chains have gone bankrupt, and the industry has gone from five major label groups to four and most likely to three by the end of next year.

So what happened to the Napster movie that was planned?

The music industry vs. peer-to-peer file sharing network Napster saga transpired from 1999 to 2001. I was one of the few music journalists on the front lines. I went to all the court hearings. I saw founder Shawn Fanning go from a regular kid to a stalked, paparazzi target arriving to the courthouse in limos with bodyguards.

I spent hours with Hilary Rosen, who then ran the (Recording Industry Association of America) at the time and represented the labels who brought on the original lawsuit against Napster. No one knew this, but at the time she was getting repeated death threats for suing Napster.

I had Napster attorney David Boies (who went on to represent Al Gore during the "hanging chad" debacle) on speed dial to discuss the nuance of copyright law.

Bascially, that's what I think happened to the Napster movie. Any film that needs to tackle the nuance of copyright law and the ridiculously complicated rights associated with recorded music, would fail miserably. The only people who would go see it would be the music industry.

MTV Films did option Shawn Fanning's life story and had filmmaker Alex Winter, who played Bill in the "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" on board to write and possibly direct it. There was even talk that Fanning would play himself. It was supposed to be released in the 2003-2005 season. But it never saw the light of day.

I guess the other problem was no one really wanted to see a film where Metallica's Lars Ulrich, who was vocal about his band's suit against Napster, be portrayed as a villain. And who would play him in the film anyway?

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