Alex Winter, best known for portraying Bill opposite Keanu Reeves' Ted in the 1989 classic Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, has long been fascinated by electronic communities. He even directed a documentary, Downloaded (2012), on filesharing. His latest documentary, Deep Web, premiered on the Epix channel in late May. It tells the story of Silk Road, a website that flourished from 2011 until 2013, when the feds shut it down.
Silk Road was a platform for buying and selling mostly illegal items. Earlier this year its alleged creator, Ross Ulbricht, was found guilty in federal court on various charges related to running the site. In early May, Senior Editor Brian Doherty spoke with Winter about the film.
Q: Are you telling a story with an end--Silk Road gone--or one just beginning?
A: Of course it's just the beginning. The parallels between Silk Road and Napster are striking. You have this very simple but brilliant technological advancement, with Silk Road combining Bitcoin and Torand growing into a scalable anonymized community. The essence was more threatening to government than the drugs, like that community ease of use with Napster was more threatening to institutional power than just piracy per se. The second big similarity is in Silk Road you had a central server. Just like with Napster, that became a weakness because it's easier to shut down.
Like with Napster, copycats appeared, most of them terrible, but some are showing up that are very successfully moving toward a decentralized market, like with Bit Torrent, and that will be extremely difficult to stop. Silk Road is the beginning of the era, not the end. And even with Ulbricht's story, revelations about [criminality on the part of] the federal agents [investigating him] show that what happened with Ross, other things might come out. The book might get slammed on him, but his family will work tirelessly appealing.
Q: You got interesting stuff from FBI agent Chris Tarbell, the guy who allegedly found the Silk Road server via a security...