Monday, February 23, 2009

In Defense of John Fanning

Napster is back, but in name only. Back in April I linked to an excerpt from Joseph Menn's All the Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning's Napster, which includes a not terribly flattering portrait of Shawn Fanning's uncle John Fanning. John Chamberlain objects to the characterization in an email:

Hi Mr. Olsen, I noticed that in April you excerpted from the book "All the
Rave" that details John Fanning's role in the rise of Napster.

When I was a young man I was a close friend who worked for John at some of
his business ventures before he got involved with his nephew Shawn and in
some ways was the prototype for his later relationship with Shawn.

John Fanning was not only one of the best bosses I ever had, but the best
friend as well. He was uniformly and unconditionally supportive of me and
believed in me when noone else would have. He was incredibly generous not
only to me, but to everyone I ever saw him come into contact with. He gave
the shirt off his back to me and the others who worked for him at Cambridge
Automation and Multimedia Engineering. I got my first real job at Fidelity
because of John and my first hard core programming experience all on John's

I had a lot of advantages John did not. I came from a well-off family and
graduated from Princeton, yet I happily enjoyed working for John, cast as a
bankrupt drop-out from the ghettoes of Brockton by the book. Why? Because
he is one of the nicest, most honest and supportive persons I ever met.

I think the way Joseph Menn twisted the Napster story and blackened John to
sensationalize his work comes from the worst traditions of yellow journalism.

I think the way he quotes New York VCs calling John a "putz" and looking
down on him because he doesn't wear their $800 suits is particularly
despicable. Menn presents John as some kind of financial rapist and the all
the various VCs that came later as would-be saviours. What a travesty!
Where were all those VCs when Shawn was trying to pay his board and tuition
at Northeastern? Did they believe in Shawn and pay to feed him? Did they
drive him around and support him when he just a kid? Did they nurture his
ideas and show how to make those ideas work? No, John did. John has a heart
of gold and sense of honor. None of those VCs even hold a candle to him as
a man and I am deeply insulted by the way Joseph Menn puts snakes like them
above him.

To me John is a hero who exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit that
built this country and whose devotion to his family and friends deserves
the highest admiration.

- John S. Chamberlain, Natick, Massachusetts

Fair and balanced we are.


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