“Witness – history as told by the people who were there. Five days a week we will be talking to people who lived through moments of history to bring you a personal perspective on world events.”
In 2001 the music sharing website Napster was closed down.
Part of the excellent output from BBC World Service, Witness is a factual, short-form show looking at recent historical events within living memory.
The Napster episode, for example, gave a potted history of the peer-to-peer file-sharing service including an interview with Napter’s founder, Shawn Fanning.
Since the show is solely concerned with being factualm and is a thumbnail sketch in limited time, there is no analysis or comment. The editorial line in this episode was strictly neutral. Witness tries – and usually fails – to avoid politics. However, the editorial team fails to grasp the impossibility of this. A failure to comment either looks like complicity or cowardice.
As good as the Napster sketch is, there is no probing of the moral or legal thinking behind Napster, which was clearly in violation of copyright law at the time, or how the founders and their backers ever thought they would run it without becoming mired in lawsuits. Was Napster just naive, aiming to break down the music industry by sheer weight of users pulling down the barricades, or just cynically assuming the industry would cave to its’ model and cut Napster in for a share of the royalties?
In the end, neither happened and Napster was closed down. Shawn Fanning is left looking disengenuous at best. AJS
Running time: 9 mins
Other recent Witness editions:
- Expulsion from Diego Garcia: How Britain forced the Chagos Islanders into exile to make way for a US military base.
- The Wayne Gretzky trade: In 1988 Canada’s greatest ice-hockey player was sold to an American team.
- Nudist beach: In August 1979 the first nudist beach in Britain was given the go-ahead.