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Before Spotify And Netflix, A Black Man Was The King Of Access. He Went To Federal Prison.

It used to be that consumers never really cared how they accessed their favorite entertainment just as long as they could.

Bootlegged blockbusters, still raking in millions at the movie theater, often came directly to them in plastic bags for cheap at the barbershop or hair salon. The hottest music could be downloaded onto their computers, compliments of sites like Napster or Limewire. Concerts were affordable even for young people with $6-an-hour part-time jobs in the late ’90s.

Well, no one cares about access until it’s taken away from them — like when a federal court ruled in 2001 that Napster had to shut down after it was found liable for copyright infringement — or until it becomes a money-devouring complication.

That latter fact was a catalyst for the Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit just this year against Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster, a major ticketing site that reached its pinnacle of disaster after some Swifties tried in vain to get tickets to see their girl perform live in 2022.

We’ve now reached a point when the issue at the core of all of this can’t be ignored: the bureaucratic and often racialized structure of access. That was top of mind while watching “How Music Got Free,” director Alex Stapleton’s thoughtful new docuseries that traces the humble origins and spectacular fallout of music piracy.

Inspired, in part, by the 2015 New Yorker article “ The Man Who Broke the Music Business ” by Stephen Witt, who’s also a producer of “How Music Got Free,” the docuseries illuminates the messy, legal and urgent problem of music access. And the series centers the brilliant, and until recently, anonymous Black mind behind it all.

“How Music Got Free” is told through both archival and new

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