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How did the newspaper, music, and film industries go from raking in big bucks to scooping up digital dimes? Their customers were lured away by the free ride of technology. Now, business journalist Robert Levine shows how they can get back on track. On the Internet, “information wants to be free.” This memorable phrase shaped the online business model, but it is now driving How did the newspaper, music, and film industries go from raking in big bucks to scooping up digital dimes? Their customers were lured away by the free ride of technology. Now, business journalist Robert Levine shows how they can get back on track. On the Internet, “information wants to be free.” This memorable phrase shaped the online business model, but it is now driving the media companies on whom the digital industry feeds out of business. Today, newspaper stocks have fallen to all-time lows as papers are pressured to give away content, music sales have fallen by more than half since file sharing became common, TV ratings are plum­meting as viewership migrates online, and publishers face off against Amazon over the price of digital books. In Free Ride, Robert Levine narrates an epic tale of value destruction that moves from the corridors of Congress, where the law was passed that legalized YouTube, to the dorm room of Shawn Fanning, the founder of Napster; from the bargain-pricing dramas involving iTunes and Kindle to Google’s fateful decision to digitize first and ask questions later. Levine charts how the media industry lost control of its destiny and suggests innovative ways it can resist the pull of zero. Fearless in its reporting and analysis, Free Ride is the busi­ness history of the decade and a much-needed call to action.


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How did the newspaper, music, and film industries go from raking in big bucks to scooping up digital dimes? Their customers were lured away by the free ride of technology. Now, business journalist Robert Levine shows how they can get back on track. On the Internet, “information wants to be free.” This memorable phrase shaped the online business model, but it is now driving How did the newspaper, music, and film industries go from raking in big bucks to scooping up digital dimes? Their customers were lured away by the free ride of technology. Now, business journalist Robert Levine shows how they can get back on track. On the Internet, “information wants to be free.” This memorable phrase shaped the online business model, but it is now driving the media companies on whom the digital industry feeds out of business. Today, newspaper stocks have fallen to all-time lows as papers are pressured to give away content, music sales have fallen by more than half since file sharing became common, TV ratings are plum­meting as viewership migrates online, and publishers face off against Amazon over the price of digital books. In Free Ride, Robert Levine narrates an epic tale of value destruction that moves from the corridors of Congress, where the law was passed that legalized YouTube, to the dorm room of Shawn Fanning, the founder of Napster; from the bargain-pricing dramas involving iTunes and Kindle to Google’s fateful decision to digitize first and ask questions later. Levine charts how the media industry lost control of its destiny and suggests innovative ways it can resist the pull of zero. Fearless in its reporting and analysis, Free Ride is the busi­ness history of the decade and a much-needed call to action.

30 review for Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back

  1. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I really tried. I really tried to give this book a fair shake, to read it with an open mind and to try to understand the author's perspective. I read the whole thing in order to be able to review it completely and not just form an opinion on the first two or three chapters. This book is beyond awful. The writing is terrible. It might as well be a summary (maybe concatenation) of file sharing, media technology, and copyright writing from 1999 - 2010, annotated with snarky (and unsubstantiated) co I really tried. I really tried to give this book a fair shake, to read it with an open mind and to try to understand the author's perspective. I read the whole thing in order to be able to review it completely and not just form an opinion on the first two or three chapters. This book is beyond awful. The writing is terrible. It might as well be a summary (maybe concatenation) of file sharing, media technology, and copyright writing from 1999 - 2010, annotated with snarky (and unsubstantiated) comments about how duplicitous and self serving American technology companies are. The author also trips one of my personal writing pet peeves in his prodigious use of decimated to mean "reduced by a large percentage" as opposed to "reduced by 10%". I am aware that the dictionary agrees with him, but I am still going to mock him for saying that a particular newspaper reduced its staff from 190 to 170 and then several pages later saying that that same newspaper would have better luck competing with the rest of the internet because it "hasn't been decimated by layoffs, as so many others have been. (33% in according to my kindle)" Frankly this book isn't even about piracy. It's about tech companies whose product is the internet, or things on the internet, or devices which access the internet and who want these things to be available as cheaply as possible (to maximize their profits). And it's about the media companies who want to sell things as expensively as possible (to maximize their profits). That sounds less like "how digital parasites are destroying the culture business" and more like.....basic economics. The problem is that it's kind of hard to make an argument in favor of the companies that are trying to charge the consumer more. And it's even harder to make this argument when you're forced to admit, every time you quote a statistic on how bad piracy is, that that statistic was probably exaggerated and that really no one has any idea what the economic cost is of piracy (or cheap kindle books, or boxes that have audacity to try to connect your TV to the internet). Let's look at a specific example. According to the author, newspapers are dying because tech companies (those evil, evil tech companies) pressured newspapers to put all of their content online, and then news aggregators run by the tech companies (t.e.e.t.c's) stole all the web traffic. Well, maybe. Or maybe newspapers are dying because people would rather get their news from a talking head on the t.v. Maybe newspapers are dying because people get their classified ads for free on craigslist. Maybe because those evil tech companies can report sports scores more conveniently than a daily paper. Maybe because last time I checked there were 1.142857 good syndicated cartoons (Pearls Before Swine and Foxtrot on Sundays) and quite a few truly outstanding webcomics available, sorry Robert Levine, for free online using alternative business models. So yeah, I'll concede the point that the internet is killing some previously healthy businesses. But I don't think we have enough data to conclude that it's because of piracy (or even has anything to do with copyrights*...) There are about 8 stories like this, one or two for each industry: music, movies, books, television, newspapers. Each has some adorable nuances. For example, this is the first time I've ever heard someone argue that the DMCA was a reasonable let alone overly permissive piece of legislation! And even as I read these stories, (the source articles for which I had mostly already read, such is the value of the internet!) I was genuinely curious about the second half of the subtitle. So how *can* the culture businesses can fight back? Well, Levine offers two suggestions: 1) Blanket licensing for content. Ok, I actually think this is very reasonable assuming it's reasonably priced and provides the same conveniences that file sharing does (i.e. unlimited downloads, playability across devices, etc.) Of course, his only example where this has been successfully done is an Irish ISP who created some sort of hybrid between Spotify and emusic (back when emusic was cool...) Somehow I don't think that's going to help. and, wait for it, 2) Do nothing. Now that so many people are paying for broadband, it's in the ISPs best interest to stop people from donwloading so much and so those companies will naturally start to try to curb piracy. I don't buy any of it**. Jonathon Coulton had a wonderful post-Megaupload, post-SOPA-protest*** blog post about stuff like this: you can read the whole thing here, http://www.jonathancoulton.com/2012/0..., but here's what I took away from it. People have been making music for a lot longer than people have been making money for making music, and if the record labels all fold because of piracy, or because of bad PR (more likely in my opinion) people are still going to make music. Maybe the author is right and the internet will kill the culture business, but it's certainly not going to kill culture****. And maybe all it will mean is that culture will get cheaper. In all of his hand wringing about the fate of the music, movie, newspaper, and television industries, the author doesn't even acknowledge that by making culture cheaper, people who maybe couldn't afford it otherwise will be enriched by it. I am inclined to believe this will have a more profound effect on the future of "the culture business" than the bottom line for the mega-corporations and media conglomerates. * This book would have been infinitely better, maybe even good, if it had taken the Freakonomics approach of gathering data, testing some hypotheses and then presenting the results of the analysis. Of course, since there's no data to support the assertion that piracy is bad, it also would have been infinitely shorter... (See Tim O'Reilly's (in my opinion excellent) posts on the subject. https://plus.google.com/1070337312462... and https://plus.google.com/1070337312462.... Hey look! I can regurgitate opinions as fact and provide citations, too! I should write a book!) ** I shudder to think what this book would have been like if it had been written post-SOPA blackout. *** I also didn't buy this book. I didn't pirate it either, although that would have been funny. I checked a digital copy out of my local library and read it on my kindle. The author conveniently neglects to note that people have been getting free media from libraries for hundreds of years. **** In one interview, someone claims that the protection of copyrights is a national security issue because of how effective movies and music are at spreading and promoting American culture and values. Um, wait a minute, if that's the case then shouldn't we encourage foreign piracy in order to influence more people?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    There is a myth going around that the Internet is free. That the Internet embodies freedom of speech. That the Internet strengthens democracy and not the other way around. With the recent outcry over proposed legislation to curb Internet piracy (the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act), conflicts over the meaning of the Internet have come to a head, faded from the public mind (now that the legislation has bee There is a myth going around that the Internet is free. That the Internet embodies freedom of speech. That the Internet strengthens democracy and not the other way around. With the recent outcry over proposed legislation to curb Internet piracy (the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act), conflicts over the meaning of the Internet have come to a head, faded from the public mind (now that the legislation has been withdrawn), and will return soon, since the problems SOPA and PIPA tried to address have not been addressed. In Free Ride, Robert Levine analyzes the effect the Internet has had on the culture business—music, film, books—how online piracy has eroded profits and upended business models, and how technology companies and media companies are locked in a struggle to determine the future of online commerce, content, and communication. One of the biggest myths that Levine tackles is the idea that consumers have the right to free content and that piracy advocates and copyright opponents are protecting consumers. The reality is that tech giants like Google, who champion “free information,” are businesses, and like all businesses, their motivation is profit. Google is happy to scan every book in the world for the greater good of free information because there is a fortune to be made in advertising to its site visitors. The heart of much of the controversy rests in how much our society values copyright and whether copyright should and can be enforced. Should the Internet be completely “open” or should there be closed systems, i.e. places where you must go to purchase certain content (like iTunes), or a combination of both? Does copyright protect artists and encourage and incentivize artists to create, or is it an outdated concept that limits freedom, innovation, and creativity? SOPA and PIPA were preceded in 2010 by the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). It didn’t survive, and SOPA was a basically a rewrite. Levine’s reaction to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (www.eff.org) reaction to COICA: "To the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “COICA looks like another misguided gift to a shortsighted industry whose first instinct with respect to the Internet is to try to break it.” (One could also say that the current state of affairs is a misguided gift to a few giant technology companies whose first instinct with respect to culture is to try to take it.) The organization said the bill would crush online freedom of speech, but it’s hard to imagine the First Amendment value of a Russian pirate site like ZML.com, which sold subscription access to movies still in theaters. . . If anything, under the principle that copyright is “the engine of free expression,” widespread piracy endangers free speech by reducing the incentive of artists to create new work." Regarding the “current state of affairs,” Levine writes, “If a country had a market where about a quarter of all commerce was illegal and the rest was dominated by a few large companies, no one would call that economy a success. You can’t have a functioning economy without a market, you can’t have a market without some form of property rights, and those rights don’t mean anything if they can’t be enforced.” Those few large companies have been outspoken against SOPA and PIPA. Here’s an observation by Andrew Orlowski from the online magazine, The Register (“White House shelves SOPA... now what?” January 7, 2012): "Remember that Google itself is a web censor on a quite significant scale, and in an arbitrary way. Last year, Google made 11 million sites disappear on a whim, removing the .co.cc domains from its search index because the sites were deemed by Google to be "spammy". Many were, but were all of them? We shall never know, and really, it's beside the point: a single powerful corporation was making a subjective value judgement call to make a large chunk of the internet vanish. In this case Google was judge, jury and executioner, and the process had no 'transparency', another favourite buzzword of the critics. And this single corporation is a vertically-integrated operator of enormous social consequence. It holds monopolies on search and pricing; it creates de facto technical protocols; its decisions decide which small businesses survive or perish." So what can be done, especially if online piracy is so rampant that it is very difficult, some say impossible, to prevent? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, acknowledged the illegality of online copyright violation, but outlined that Internet content providers were not liable for copyright infringements carried out by third parties. This is what made sites like YouTube possible; anyone can upload copyrighted material to the site and it is up to the copyright owner to ask YouTube to remove the content. YouTube facilitates the copyright violations but bears no responsibility—and makes a fortune in the process. The same applies to Internet service providers. Levine: "By removing all responsibility for copyright infringement from Internet service providers, laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allowed the Internet to flourish. But they also gave Internet service providers a perverse incentive to ignore the problems of the entertainment industry. If online companies have nothing to lose, they have no reason to negotiate. Any solution has to start with giving Internet service providers an incentive to reduce piracy without strengthening copyright so much that music labels and movie studios lose their incentive to come to terms." Having Internet service providers bear responsibility for upholding the law is what SOPA and PIPA were trying to accomplish. Those who say that these companies simply cannot monitor all of the illegal content loaded onto their sites are ignoring the fact that YouTube, after several lawsuits (despite DMCA), developed filtering software that now effectively does just that. If online piracy can never be eliminated, a practical response to the problem must involve both punitive action and incentives. Essentially, in addition to legal prosecution of large-scale piracy operations, media and technology companies must work together to make accessing digital content convenient enough that consumers will prefer to pay for content rather than go to the hassle of finding it illegally. Blanket licensing is one idea, where an ISP will charge customers a fee to download (or access) all the content they want, and the ISP pays artists and labels for the rights (think Netflix, but on a larger scale). Levine points to the Irish ISP, Eircom, as a case study. In a legal dispute between Eircom and the Irish Recorded Music Association, “Eircom agreed to enforce antipiracy rules with a graduated response program, while the labels signed a deal that has Eircom pay them in order to offer free music streaming to its customers and sell downloads for less than Apple’s iTunes store—€5.99 (about $8.50) for fifteen tracks a month." Levine points to several efforts throughout Europe that demonstrate a higher regard for copyright laws than in the United States, perhaps partly because the biggest and most innovative Internet companies flaunting their power (hello Google) are American. Justice Peter Charleton, a judge in a separate case that involved Eircom and a competitor, wrote that piracy “ruins the ability of a generation of creative people in Ireland, and elsewhere, to establish a viable living.” What else? Heard of UltraViolet yet? It’s the movie industry’s newest (or most prominent) venture into online content sales and another approach to making purchasing online content more attractive than piracy. Consumers can purchase online digital movies that are stored on servers (“in the cloud”) and can be accessed from multiple devices with an account. “If it succeeds, it will give the studios an online product that could replace the DVD—and perhaps much of the revenue it represents.” It remains to be seen if this will work. Levine: “No one knows whether consumers will buy movies they can’t put on a shelf, but UltraViolet may offer enough convenience to convince them.” Ultraviolet content is being packaged now as bonus content with special DVD sales. By purchasing an UltraViolet movie, a consumer purchases rights to that content, which, according to UltraViolet’s website, “are the guaranteed minimum benefits that you, as a consumer, get with every UltraViolet movie or TV show at-no-charge above the original purchase price. UltraViolet Retailers and UltraViolet Streaming Services may, over time, charge additional fees for additional benefits (such as additional downloads or more streaming). Other than the inconvenience of having to open yet another online account (an UltraViolet account in addition to accounts for the myriad streaming services?), the “additional fees” do not sound reassuring. Nevertheless, rather than crying foul against any regulation of the Internet (which is a myth, after all) or misusing the First Amendment, true advocates of free expression should be willing to protect the rights of the culture business (including artists big and small), support innovation in the online content market, and, yes, accept responsible enforcement of existing laws. As Levine might say, don’t be a pawn in technology companies’ profit game. And don’t be a digital parasite.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Adelle

    Interesting. I picked it up at the library because I saw it there the same day the anti-SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act} protest went viral. The author makes a compelling case that Google and other tech companies push for doing away with copyright laws because the tech companies are selling technology...and cheap or free use of content benefits them. But, the author argues, the true cost of content isn't the delivery system...it's the creativity and research and work that goes into writing songs or Interesting. I picked it up at the library because I saw it there the same day the anti-SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act} protest went viral. The author makes a compelling case that Google and other tech companies push for doing away with copyright laws because the tech companies are selling technology...and cheap or free use of content benefits them. But, the author argues, the true cost of content isn't the delivery system...it's the creativity and research and work that goes into writing songs or books or movies.... And if there is no longer a financial reason to create.... Then there will be less and less important content being produced. What a conundrum. I certainly don't want the government closing down sites ... I don't want us to live in a country that can easily censor sites... And yet I also want the people who write books and music and produce movies to be compensated. I want copywrite laws to be enforced. It's going to be a tricksy task for Congress and the courts.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    The author did an interesting job of talking about the history of anti-priacy measures and the various interest groups that have been involved in the lobbying effort. Unfortunately, the author was exteremely biased toward copyright protection interests, to the point that he seemed to ignore various oportunities for moving forward that he didn't view as ideal as the past. Furthermore, this bias came accross in a whiney and bitter tone, which made the book very tedious to read. The author's last fe The author did an interesting job of talking about the history of anti-priacy measures and the various interest groups that have been involved in the lobbying effort. Unfortunately, the author was exteremely biased toward copyright protection interests, to the point that he seemed to ignore various oportunities for moving forward that he didn't view as ideal as the past. Furthermore, this bias came accross in a whiney and bitter tone, which made the book very tedious to read. The author's last few chapters focused on solutions for moving forward, but unfortunately he focused on pie in the sky solutions that are very unlikely of getting passed. instead, I would have liked for him to focus more on market based solutions that are having an impact. He devoted no more than a couple of random paragraphs on netflix scattered throughout the book, yet this is the biggest anti-pricacy event in movie piracy in the digital age. Furthermore, the author was very negative on Itunes because it sells songs as singles, leading to lower profits. However, the fact that Itunes sells singles is unrelated to digital piracy of music. Furthermore, I've always thought that it is unreasonable to make a consumer buy a whole album if only one song is worth buying. I still buy whole albums if the whole album is good. There is no doubt that the digital revolution has increased piracy. The question the author fails to answer is where do we go from here. Instead, he spends his time lamenting the good old days. Finally, the author seems to ignore the other uses of the internet outside of media. Many businesses, such as online retail, supply chain management, and electronic correspondence depend on the internet but have no relation to the piracy debate. Many of his "solutions" (such as taxing ISPs to cover piracy costs) ignore this fact, and seem to consider that the only legitimate use of the internet is for the distribution of media. This is clearly an oversight.

  5. 4 out of 5

    K.V. Johansen

    Very thought-provoking. Everyone trying to make a living in the arts these days should read this. So should all the people who think that those trying to make a living from the arts are supposed to work for free for their entertainment. (And that includes librarians and teachers, yes.)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris Aylott

    Magazine writer and editor Robert Levine musters useful facts about media businesses here, facts that should be taken into account in any discussion of how piracy affects the media. That said, I think the conclusions he draws are debatable at best. Levine's viewpoint is that creators should get paid for their work, which I heartily agree with. However, he seems to see piracy as an attack on media businesses enabled by greedy technology companies (who benefit from the availability of pirated cont Magazine writer and editor Robert Levine musters useful facts about media businesses here, facts that should be taken into account in any discussion of how piracy affects the media. That said, I think the conclusions he draws are debatable at best. Levine's viewpoint is that creators should get paid for their work, which I heartily agree with. However, he seems to see piracy as an attack on media businesses enabled by greedy technology companies (who benefit from the availability of pirated content). His solutions support media companies by using the threat of stronger enforcement to bring tech companies to the negotiating table and create a broader licensing system similar to ASCAP performance rights. There is merit in this approach, but Levine glosses over the real problem -- that piracy is a symptom of the horrendous inefficiencies in most media businesses. Music revenues are collapsing because listeners want to buy single songs, not $15 albums. Newspapers and television are losing out on advertising revenue because they can't target specific customers. Hollywood revenues are threatened because fans only have so many movies that they want to spend $15 and keep. These are fundamental business issues for media, and controlling piracy seems like temporary preservation of a broken system. There are some good ideas in here. But as the medieval guildsmen learned, monopoly systems collapse as technology changes and trade expands. There are things that media businesses can do to slow the rate of change, but they need to use that breathing space to figure out how they can add value to a customer's purchase instead of hanging on to an outdated monopoly.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David Jedeikin

    Made me renew my cable membership! Well, okay, not quite... but it does paint an interesting, if Hollywood-centric and somewhat scold-y, picture of the dynamic between the entertainment industry and the Internet/technology business. I think it's a bit much to claim that most, if not all, of the Internet (and Apple's) success has to do with people pirating media, but it does make a compelling case for some kind of better oversight and organization of how people consume media. Not discussed: the ne Made me renew my cable membership! Well, okay, not quite... but it does paint an interesting, if Hollywood-centric and somewhat scold-y, picture of the dynamic between the entertainment industry and the Internet/technology business. I think it's a bit much to claim that most, if not all, of the Internet (and Apple's) success has to do with people pirating media, but it does make a compelling case for some kind of better oversight and organization of how people consume media. Not discussed: the need for, and role of, all-powerful media companies and their profit-hungry role as packagers/aggregators/arbiters of media. I don't think anybody doubts the needs for or usefulness of responsible, fact-checked journalism, and top-quality music, movies & TV. I'm just not convinced that the "old economy" model of delivering said content is as relevant in today's age. Maybe Google should start underwriting content instead of Time Warner? Just sayin'...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Koen Verbrugge

    Een goed boek als je de voorgeschiedenis van de copyfights goed wilt kennen, inclusief de huidige worstelingen. Er is echter geen oplossing in zicht en dat komt grotendeels uit de stellingname van de schrijver. Aggregators zijn des duivels, maar dat veel kranten aggregators zijn an sich komt niet aan bod. Tevens onaangeroerd zijn de voordelen van cocreatie, open standaarden voor data, veranderende rollen van merken enz. Al bij al een waardevol boek dat goed geresearched werd en op zijn minst één Een goed boek als je de voorgeschiedenis van de copyfights goed wilt kennen, inclusief de huidige worstelingen. Er is echter geen oplossing in zicht en dat komt grotendeels uit de stellingname van de schrijver. Aggregators zijn des duivels, maar dat veel kranten aggregators zijn an sich komt niet aan bod. Tevens onaangeroerd zijn de voordelen van cocreatie, open standaarden voor data, veranderende rollen van merken enz. Al bij al een waardevol boek dat goed geresearched werd en op zijn minst één kant van het verhaal goed brengt. Dat verhaal is echter niet het verhaal van morgen, maar van gisteren. Goede aanvulling op andere boeken die net op de mogelijkheden van digitale media concentreren.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bebe (Sarah) Brechner

    Shockingly good account of the content creators' side of the current controversy over SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). Comprehensive coverage of the music, book, and film industry's positions against piracy and the push for free access to content. While this book is decidedly in favor of copyright and piracy protections, the author exposes the fact that free access favors the business of Google and other interests and is not a neutral position. I think everyone should read this book before develop Shockingly good account of the content creators' side of the current controversy over SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). Comprehensive coverage of the music, book, and film industry's positions against piracy and the push for free access to content. While this book is decidedly in favor of copyright and piracy protections, the author exposes the fact that free access favors the business of Google and other interests and is not a neutral position. I think everyone should read this book before developing an opinion about SOPA and its derivatives. This illuminates information that is simply not well known. A vital piece of the puzzle we must figure out.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steven Farmer

    Clear and concise. A great read!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    La utopía digital de una información y una cultura libres, gratuitas e inmediatamente accesibles para todos, sufre, tras años de reinado, los primeros cuestionamientos de rigor. Hasta ahora, los críticos de la llamada cultura libre señalaban a la piratería, a la desaparición de industrias enteras y al derecho de los creadores a vivir de su trabajo. Pero su discurso no era ni tan sistemático ni tan popular ni, por supuesto, tan militante como el de quienes defendían en las redes que las ideas no La utopía digital de una información y una cultura libres, gratuitas e inmediatamente accesibles para todos, sufre, tras años de reinado, los primeros cuestionamientos de rigor. Hasta ahora, los críticos de la llamada cultura libre señalaban a la piratería, a la desaparición de industrias enteras y al derecho de los creadores a vivir de su trabajo. Pero su discurso no era ni tan sistemático ni tan popular ni, por supuesto, tan militante como el de quienes defendían en las redes que las ideas no deben tener dueño y que la propiedad intelectual no merece tal nombre. El gurú informático Jaron Lanier disparó la primera salva en Contra el rebaño digital (Debate, 2011), aplicado a la demolición del mito de la red como mente colectiva y a la denuncia de esa paradójica pendiente por la que fluyen ríos de dinero a la publicidad al tiempo que se agostan la música, el arte o el periodismo. Pero la más completa argumentación en favor de la propiedad de las ideas, investida con las belicosos ropajes del manifiesto innegociable, la ha firmado el periodista estadounidense Robert Levine. ¿Su título? Parásitos. Cómo los oportunistas digitales están destruyendo el negocio de la cultura (Ariel, 2013). El libro ha roto las costuras del debate en EE.UU. Levine no sólo practica la disección genealógica de la cultura de lo gratis que se ha enseñoreado en internet en la última década sino que desnuda los intereses de los grandes gigantes digitales, paladines nada desinteresados de la libre circulación de las ideas. Google, Apple y otros capitanes de Silicon Valley habrían ejercido todo su poder para devaluar los derechos de autor. “¿Cómo puede una empresa competir con un rival que ofrece sus productos pero no corre con ninguno de los gastos? Parasitar se ha convertido en un camino a la riqueza”. El cuadro que dibuja Levine a partir de aquí es puntilloso, enumerativo y desacralizador. El autor advierte que no es ningún ludita y que sabe que es una tontería afirmar que prestar un DVD a un amigo sea una falta moral, pero le parece aún más ridículo “sugerir que existe un derecho inalienable a ver Iron Man 2”. Mientras las empresas tradicionales de contenidos veían desplomarse su valor, nuevos negocios florecían. La mítica NBC, famosa por series como Miami Vice, Cheers, Friends o Heroes; el grupo Emi, propietario de las grabaciones clásicas de los Beatles o Frank Sinatra; El Washington Post, referencia del periodismo norteamericano que alumbró el Watergate... Todas sufrían recortes y despidos generalizados y tentaban la quiebra. Mucho mejor les iban las cosas a The Pirate Bay, al iTunes de Apple o al Huffington Post. Sin cambios desde Napster El parásito infectó en primer lugar, explica Levine, a la industria musical. Cuando Napster abrió en 1999 la veda al intercambio de archivos musicales podía pensarse en la transitoriedad de una situación que, a su debido tiempo, beneficaría el contacto directo entre los músicos y unos fans encantados de pagar por su trabajo. Diez años más tarde, apenas ha cambiado nada. Star-ups, como Goveshark y Hotfile, siguen permitiendo el intercambio ilegal de contenidos y logran con ello beneficios. Y, se pregunta Levine: “quién quiere poner en marcha un negocio de música legítimo cuando es más fácil iniciar uno ilegal?”. iTunes, el único negocio que ha ganado dinero vendiendo música legal en la Red, habría propiciado a cambio, en el paso del álbum al single, una ruinosa desvalorización de la música, simple gancho de su verdadero negocio: la venta de carísimos gadgets. Paradigma de la bondad al facilitar unas posibilidades insospechadas de aceso al conocimiento (su oficioso lema es “Don't be evil”, “No hagas el mal”), Google es para Levine uno de los grandes villanos de esta historia. No sólo es que en su YouTube corran series, filmes y otros contenidos protegidos al amparo de una ley de EE.UU. que le exime de problemas legales responsabilizando sólo a los usuarios que suben los contenidos. Es que el buscador en cuanto tal abre a sus usuarios una jugosísima oferta de contenidos de terceros. Google se erigió además en el primer mecenas de la cultura libre. Según se relata en el libro, en 2006 donó dos millones de dólares al Stanford Center for internet and Society y entre 2008 y 2009 otros dos millones a Creative Commons. Y es que “los derechos de autor pueden cruzarse en el camino de Google hacia su objetivo: �organizar la información mundial y hacerla universalmente acesible y útil', ya que permite a los creadores limitar el acceso a su trabajo, aunque sea por el simple hecho de cobrarlo”. Tras arrancar con el caso paradigmático de la industria musical y orear las vergüenzas de Google, Levine dirige por orden su proclama a periódicos, series televisivas, libros y películas. Todos ellos entre la espada y la pared de una feroz disyuntiva: poner sus contenidos “disponibles online, en cualquier momento, en cualquier formato, sin coste adicional, lo que podría no ser un gran negocio”, o idear una manera de cobrarlos a su precio. Cantos de sirena La prensa vale como perfecto ejemplo de las indecisiones y sufrimientos que ocasionan los cantos de sirena. The Guardian, el segundo medio en inglés más leído de la red, el primero que se rindió a sus encantos y, además, uno de los que siguen resistiéndose a cobrar sus contenidos digitales, pierde 100.000 libras al día. En EE.UU., escribe Levine, los periódicos, que publican el 99% de las noticias enlazadas en blogs, nunca han sido más populares ni menos rentables. Su hiperactividad online no genera ingresos. Parásitos recuerda que los diarios no vivían tanto de vender noticias como de segmentar audiencias para sus anunciantes. La publicidad se pagaba bien en papel donde el espacio era limitado pero no en la red, donde es ilimitado. Así, “lo más estúpido que podían hacer los periódicos era convencer a sus lectores de que abandonasen la edición impresa en favor de la online”. La solución para este dramático brete pasaría por cobrar por la información en todos sus formatos. La prensa peligra pero también el cine o Mad Men, dice Levine. La aclamada serie, y ya de paso, la televisión au complet, podrían reventar en cuanto las descargas y los streamings, ilegales o no, ojo, hallen un atajo del ordenador a la tele, esto es, en cuanto los televisores acaben todos por conectarse a la red. Repite Levine: “La mayoría de la publicidad online vale sólo una fracción de su equivalente offline”. Algunos pagarán por Netflix pero nunca los suficientes mientras la alternativa ilegal siga a sólo un click. Concluye Levine: “En 2010, los ejecutivos de la tecnología empezaron a decir que cualquiera que quisiera limitar la piratería estaba tratando de �romper internet'. Pero la verdad es que ya se está rompiendo. Ahora, y tal vez no por mucho tiempo, tenemos la oportunidad de arreglarlo”. http://www.elcultural.es/version_pape...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey Hileman

    Even though the information was slightly dated by the time I read this in 2018, it gave context to many of the rules, regulations, and guidelines I deal with as a creator of online content, for both professional purposes (marketing) and as a creative. It was an interesting read that kept my attention, likely because it did not go down too many overly-technical rabbit trails.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Natalie K

    Started off decent but then got kind of weird. I agree piracy is a bad thing, but I fail to see how the iTunes Store is. Say what you want, but being able to buy individual tracks instead of needing to shell out a ton of money for a whole album when you just want one or two songs is capitalism at its finest.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Martín

    Este libro, llamado "Parásitos" en español, me pareció intelectualmente deshonesto. Si bien el autor intenta hacer un análisis algo objetivo de la historia y situación actual de lo que llama las "industrias de contenido" (editoriales, sellos musicales, estudios cinematográficos, canales de TV y cable), detrás de ello existe una narrativa que intenta plantear la idea de que los principales culpables del derrumbe de los modelos de negocios pre-Internet de estas industrias son los ISPs y las empres Este libro, llamado "Parásitos" en español, me pareció intelectualmente deshonesto. Si bien el autor intenta hacer un análisis algo objetivo de la historia y situación actual de lo que llama las "industrias de contenido" (editoriales, sellos musicales, estudios cinematográficos, canales de TV y cable), detrás de ello existe una narrativa que intenta plantear la idea de que los principales culpables del derrumbe de los modelos de negocios pre-Internet de estas industrias son los ISPs y las empresas de tecnología. Así, este libro perfectamente pudo haberse llamado "Todo es culpa de Google", ya que de forma casi paranoica, el autor ve la mano de Google en todas las iniciativas e incluso movimientos ciudadanos que buscan actualizar las normas de derechos de autor para la presente era. Ataca a académicos por estar vinculados con ONGs y universidades que reciben financiamiento de Google, y otras empresas de tecnología, viendo necesariamente un incentivo perverso para que estos académicos adopten una postura que -coincidentemente- es la de Google. Los ataca como "anticopyright", cuando la mayoría de ellos han manifestado públicamente que buscan una regulación de copyright/derechos de autor más moderada o equilibrada respecto de los actuales usos de obras intelectuales en Internet. Lo más interesante me pareció el penúltimo capítulo sobre la propuesta de implementación de una licencia mecánica para uso de obras intelectuales ajenas en la Red. Entra en detalle sobre sus ventajas y desventajas, y plantea la posición de usar un sistema que sea similar a un seguro, en que el riesgo es precisamente el uso no autorizado de normas (Copyrisk, concepto tomado de Jim Griffin). Al final, el desarrollo de la propuesta de Levine de que mantener la gratuidad de las obras culturales en Internet significa pan para hoy y pobreza para mañana, se ve afectado por la mala intención que ve en todas partes, negando el rol que han tenido los consumidores en esta pelea. La premisa del libro también niega el hecho de que el incentivo para crear obras intelectuales no es necesariamente una contraprestación monetaria.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gábor

    The Internet has been and is changing business models. The author who is able to reside both in NYC and Berlin and cover "culture business", seems to be an actual beneficiary of these changes. With changing business models, there are losers and there are winners. It happens to be that the old guard of middle man in news, music, movie, book businesses were not ready to "cannibalize" their existing revenue streams, and hence nurtured a new generation of middle man, Apple for music, Amazon for eboo The Internet has been and is changing business models. The author who is able to reside both in NYC and Berlin and cover "culture business", seems to be an actual beneficiary of these changes. With changing business models, there are losers and there are winners. It happens to be that the old guard of middle man in news, music, movie, book businesses were not ready to "cannibalize" their existing revenue streams, and hence nurtured a new generation of middle man, Apple for music, Amazon for ebooks, and various news aggregators for reporting. There are of course the empires of Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft, all grabbing face time from our limited attention pool. While this book does point out actual piracy on the Internet as a factor in this processes, calling online companies, like Google, pirates, because they are using their newly gained powers to muscle into and create new business opportunities seems to be overboard. I think it is simple from the consumer perspective, middle man offering added value will stay in business and others will be disintermediated. And this is a pill the old guard finds hard to swallow. Of course all this changing of the guard doesn't address the real problem, which is the need to find a revenue model for the actual individual content creators, which include writers, musicians, performers, (citizen) journalists and the like. And creating some sort of additional performance rights organisation bureaucracy as proposed by the author, might not offer a good answer, as it is basically ends up being a culture tax. One just have to look at what taxes collected from Americans are being spent on to quickly understand why.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Basically a book all about how free media (Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, etc) is really damaging the music industry, and other arts industries as well. I'm not sure that I'm completely convinced by the full case, but it I felt it was important to read it to balance out my own bias towards pushing for everything to be free. The difficulty I have is that I don't believe huge studios/publishing houses/etc should have so much say over whose content gets produced and how much artists get (which always s Basically a book all about how free media (Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, etc) is really damaging the music industry, and other arts industries as well. I'm not sure that I'm completely convinced by the full case, but it I felt it was important to read it to balance out my own bias towards pushing for everything to be free. The difficulty I have is that I don't believe huge studios/publishing houses/etc should have so much say over whose content gets produced and how much artists get (which always seems shockingly little). I appreciate social media and internet hosting for the flexibility and freedom it allows...but I agree that artists should be supported for their work. I'm intrigued by ideas like Patreon, but I don't know if people make enough for that to be sustainable. Personally, I believe that we could leverage some of the big tech companies to pour more money into patronage of sorts, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    There's a problem with using pirated content. It's not just that people could feel entitled to this material, but it is also that the material exists there in the first place and that sites that have content have not been taken down. Why can't everything be free? Well, if that would be the case who could afford to produce the material and pay the artists? Why has this material been allowed to be pirated? Not enough laws in place? Is it that Internet provider such as Google paying research compan There's a problem with using pirated content. It's not just that people could feel entitled to this material, but it is also that the material exists there in the first place and that sites that have content have not been taken down. Why can't everything be free? Well, if that would be the case who could afford to produce the material and pay the artists? Why has this material been allowed to be pirated? Not enough laws in place? Is it that Internet provider such as Google paying research companies or foundations to support their cause? There's a lot going on behind the scenes and what matters in that the pirated information has to go. Other countries seem to value original thought and ideas in different ways. Having one set of rules for the entire world online is not working out well for the producers of content. If changes are not made, there's going to be less quality of material available.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ravi Warrier

    I really liked this book as after reading this book, I have a better understanding of how media copyrights, media industries and the internet based sharing/piracy works. Not that it's changed my mind. :) But, it seems there are solutions that are being considered that would be win-win for everyone from artists to art lovers. My only problem is with the sub-title. The book should have been more aptly named "Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture B I really liked this book as after reading this book, I have a better understanding of how media copyrights, media industries and the internet based sharing/piracy works. Not that it's changed my mind. :) But, it seems there are solutions that are being considered that would be win-win for everyone from artists to art lovers. My only problem is with the sub-title. The book should have been more aptly named "Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Are Slapping Around in the Dark" :)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Perry

    Levine provides a cogently argued, well-researched narrative on how and why the Internet grew the way it did, and how the U.S.' media companies stumbled at almost every stage. I give the book only two stars because the second half of the subtitle -- "How the Culture Business Can fight Back" -- is a tease with no payoff. Levine offers no real prescriptions for fighting back. "Free Ride" starts with doom and gloom, and it ends with more of the same. Levine provides a cogently argued, well-researched narrative on how and why the Internet grew the way it did, and how the U.S.' media companies stumbled at almost every stage. I give the book only two stars because the second half of the subtitle -- "How the Culture Business Can fight Back" -- is a tease with no payoff. Levine offers no real prescriptions for fighting back. "Free Ride" starts with doom and gloom, and it ends with more of the same.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    I picked this book on "digital parasites...destroying the culture business" and not realizing that the author is arguing for tougher copyright laws...which sounds like it helps the artist. I believe the opposite though. I believe that these copyright laws puts the artists in the hands of corporations with money to make them sign over their rights. I should have focused on the term 'culture business'. Robert Levine probably has lots of lawyer friends. I picked this book on "digital parasites...destroying the culture business" and not realizing that the author is arguing for tougher copyright laws...which sounds like it helps the artist. I believe the opposite though. I believe that these copyright laws puts the artists in the hands of corporations with money to make them sign over their rights. I should have focused on the term 'culture business'. Robert Levine probably has lots of lawyer friends.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    For a musician, this book tackles the main dilemma of our times--if the culture treats creative work as a commodity, how is it possible to go on creating when one has to provide for oneself and one's family? Levine's book doesn't answer that question (there may be no single answer), but he does an excellent job of showing how we got where we are today. For a musician, this book tackles the main dilemma of our times--if the culture treats creative work as a commodity, how is it possible to go on creating when one has to provide for oneself and one's family? Levine's book doesn't answer that question (there may be no single answer), but he does an excellent job of showing how we got where we are today.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jack Palmer

    I expected not to like Free Ride. I am certainly interested in the subject matter (I did want to read the book, after all) but in the fight between the pro-tech/anti-tech sides I tend to favor the pro. However, Levine makes a very good argument, which is only let down by an overly dry style and a lack of balance.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia McNicoll

    Read this to understand how technology companies have eroded the creative careers in order to get cheap and free content for the constantly evolving guizmos they sell. Corporations like to have patents for their programs and equipment, just not for music, books, articles and photos. Governments seem to side with big business. Easy to get depressed and throw your Ipad across the room.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Vidal

    Muy buen título... aunque ajeno a lo en el libro expuesto. Visión parcial, bien documentada pero algo desactualizada e injusta de los momentos de conflicto entre música, cine, libros e Internet. Aporta muy poco/nada en este tema. Y sabe mal haber gastado tiempo y dinero en su lectura.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vikram

    The author makes his point clear in the first 3 chapters or so. The rest is mostly a drag.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Helped clarify some issues for me. My buying habits as a consumer are completely dissonant from my preferences as a writer.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dwight Walker

    pretty controversial book on ebooks and the demise of newspapers

  28. 5 out of 5

    gargravarr

    It was okay. The author made some good points.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Terrible writing and a spurious argument. What more do I need for permission to move on to the next book on my long list?

  30. 4 out of 5

    Parker

    I'm still gathering my thoughts on this one, and have a lunch meeting with the author, Rob Levine, planned for tomorrow. I'll write something up after! I'm still gathering my thoughts on this one, and have a lunch meeting with the author, Rob Levine, planned for tomorrow. I'll write something up after!

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