All the Rave:
The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning’s Napster
Written By: Joseph Menn
Published By: Crown Publishing
Reviewed by Justine Manzano
I was surprised when my music professor assigned the book All the Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning’s Napster to our class. I suppose I shouldn’t have been. After all, he was a hip enough guy and Napster had started a revolutionary trend in the music industry. Still, I worried that the book would be boring or would attempt to push you towards one belief or another. Still, with no choice but to read the book and get over myself (expertise of Napster had a 20% stake in my grade), I sat down with the book and read through all 320-some odd pages with my highlighter and my brain turned on – and what I found was intriguing.
If you were a teenager or older in the nineties (at least!) you know what Napster is. If you don’t, allow me to kick over the rock you’ve been living under and explain it for you using what I knew BEFORE I read this book. Napster was a dream for those who both loved their computers and loved their music. The technology, dreamed up by teenage-wunderkind Shawn Fanning, involved linking up to a server – that server would then connect you to every other person connected to that server and through an indexing system, allow you to see what music files were available on their computer and vice versa. By clicking on a link, you could then download the music you wanted directly off of their computer FOR FREE – and there’s the catch. Using this system, you never paid for the music, and this as I had remembered it, had been Napster’s downfall after years of flailing around in the water trying not to drown.
So what did the book teach me about Napster that I didn’t already know? The real question should be, what didn’t it teach me? I didn’t know that Shawn Fanning had started off as a poor hacker of a teenager or that, while he invented the idea and enlisted his own group of engineers and helpers, his greedy uncle John Fanning jumped into the mix, promising to help set up a limited liability company for Shawn, and ending up with majority rule over the company simply because Shawn trusted him to do right by him. The book also teaches you the ins and outs of the start up business as it struggled to find funding, and how its lack of a money-making business model continued to cause it strife. The reader learns how attempts to oust John Fanning from the company were met with rebellion that ended up tanking possible funding as well as the legal strategies Napster had intended to use to fight the copyright infringement lawsuit they knew would come from the record companies. And possibly, in the most important lesson learned for the company, the reader learns this: If you know you are doing something illegal, never put it in writing! The discovery phase of a lawsuit requires you send the other side all documents of your office, including e-mails and memos. And the letters collected from the Napster office indicated that Napster’s main use would be to spread copyright protected material in an infringing matter.
At the end of the day, Napster’s story is an interesting read, and author Menn gives it to us sprinkled with personal tidbits about the main players and the down and dirty stories that came with them. As you see the events unfold you feel the intense need to kick people for their ignorance and mishandling of the situation. All in all, the book was an interesting read that teaches its readers the ins and outs of a starter business. Definitely a worth while read for anyone who lived through the Napster debacle.