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Free Ride: How the Internet Is Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back
Free Ride: How the Internet Is Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back
by Robert Levine
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I don't side with Levine but Free Ride is an excellent book nevertheless, 20 April 2012
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I've often wondered why a better case hasn't been made for the cultural industries in their current plight. These days the coherent voices seem to come from those arguing in favour of the changes brought about by new tech. They come less from those who feel its adverse effects. Rob Levine's book "Free Ride: How The Internet Is Destroying The Culture Business" explores these adverse effects and suggests how the culture business can fight back.

It was a tough read. Levine knows his stuff and lays it out in exhaustive detail. Impressive though his analysis is, he is light on any radical ideas for how to fight back. Tighter regulation and better licensing of copyrights was about it. In other words: the way things were, but some more. That most of the responses I've read so far are unsupportive of the book's message is hardly surprising. They indicate which way the wind is blowing. Though I respect Levine for his vigorous research when you see his case articulated you understand why it is generally not expressed more often. Not only is it short on innovation, it is clearly the losing argument and who wants to be on the side of the movement that didn't prevail.

I think there are two crucial facts which pretty much kill off the case made in Free Ride.

The first is that, historically, copyright was only lucrative for a very small number of successful people who walked away with vast fortunes. The majority of us who were party to copyright deals made little if anything from them. Many were bruised from the experience. It should be remembered too that the greater number of artists - poets, musicians, novelists, songwriters, photographers et al - never even got near such a deal. They were effectively off the copyright radar. The upshot was that much so called intellectual property was economically worthless - and invisible.

That's the first point: copyright was irrelevant for most of us.

The second fact is the more devastating one for team Levine. It is simply that history has overtaken them. It was probably inevitable. A system based on exclusive rights to copy could hardly survive a new technology whereby everyone carries highly efficient copying devices in their pocket, devices which are permanently connected to ever more sophisticated communication networks wired for sharing. All the moral arguments in the world can't get away from that. Culture moves with technological and social change. The Reformation was a direct descendent of the printing press; symphony orchestras emerged from urban growth and bigger concert halls; the phonograph was progenitor to rock and roll. Many noses are put out of joint with even the most peaceful of revolutions. It is understandable that those heavily invested in the conventions want perpetuity. Their arguments are thus forgivable. But that the old dies to make way for the new is as sure as day arising from night.

So, history is moving on and there is no turning back. Thus Rob Levine's battle is a losing one. Short of creating police states throughout the world I can't see how the culture world as it has existed for past generations can maintain its way of doing business. With its demise will come an entire restructuring of the firmament. Free Ride does nothing to anticipate that and is thus lacking in imagination. It is better read as a history book, an excellent study for students of its subject matter. Beyond that it doesn't help much being more about where we are and how we got here than where we're going.

It would be churlish to mark this book down not agreeing with its thrust. Due to Levine's knowledge and his articulacy I give it five.


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