In one of the "big think" panels that took place on the last day of SXSW Interactive, the two Sean's behind Napster-- Fanning and Parker--spoke with other thinkers and entrepreneurs about where they see the future headed, touching on concepts ranging from online community to potential models that allow artists to reach their fans, while still being compensated.
The title of the panel, Downloaded: The Digital Revolution, was actually taken from a documentary playing at SXSW Film, directed by Alex Winter. Winter, a filmmaker (who also played Bill in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure), joined Fanning and Parker on stage, along with essayist/activist John Perry Barlow and indieWire founder Eugene Hernandez.
Kicking off the talk with a clip from the documentary--it premiered at SXSW shortly after the panel took place and will become available in the spring when it's released as part of VH-1's Rock Docs series--the talk began with a take on the way Napster changed not just the music industry but, for many, their concept of the Internet and the way regular people could interact with it.
What did Napster mean? How significant a game-changer was it? For Barlow, the impact was massive. He said that Napster, as one of the first fast-working peer-to-peer networks the Internet had ever seen, marked "one of the biggest achievements in the history of computer science."
While Winter addressed his reasons for making the film--he said he was a fan of Napster and thought, at some point, the file-sharing site and its creators became demonized for the wrong reasons--the other panelists tackled issues about what big media and entertainment companies are doing right, and wrong, as the barriers of access to content continue to fall away.
Parker summarized his philosophy, in part, by saying that "people are willing to pay for convenience." To this end, his take is that Napster (which allowed people to share music files for free and, in so doing, facilitated the mass piracy of copyrighted material) was not popular simply because it was allowing free access; it was popular because there was no alternative. Parker noted that when iTunes debuted after Napster, consumers began using it because it, too, offered convenience.
While Barlow admitted that there remains a need to "value the creator"--he said that, so far, there has been a failure to create "the musician business"--none of the panelists had a take on a paradigm that would more equitably connect fans and creators, while rewarding the creators for their art.
For Parker, though, some old practices still need to die. He said that "eventually [corporate media companies] will realize that windowing is a bad idea" and that, once they stop delivering content in this way, piracy will go down. Winter agreed saying that there will always be pirates, but content industries need to match the convenience of access that is enabled by the technology consumers now have.