New York Times Book Review of "Free Ride"

by Paul Hortenstine 11/28/2011 11:14 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

In the Sunday New York Times Book Review, Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, reviewed “Free Ride” by Robert Levine.   Levine’s book illustrates the importance of copyright laws in promoting innovation and commerce on the Internet.   Rosen believes that it is an important book that “...should change the debate about the future of culture...”

Levine’s book explores how many parts of the culture industry have been economically devastated because they have invested creativity and capital in content that consumers want but often see their products being distributed for free on the Internet.  Levine writes, “The real conflict online is between the media companies that fund much of the entertainment we read, see and hear and the technology firms that want to distribute their content — legally or otherwise.”

Rosen shows how the current economic system of the Internet is broken:  “But the biggest problem with copyright today, he [Levine] says, is that its protections have become illusory in an age when movies and music, produced by independent artists and big studios alike, are available on pirate sites even before they’re released.”

One part of the culture industry that has undergone major economic upheaval due to the Internet is printed news.  Some of America’s most trusted newspapers laid off reporters who produced important original and investigative reporting.  However, currently some of the newspapers have started charging for access to their websites.   Rosen writes,

“The most successful culture businesses, Levine says, have resisted nostrums about how information yearns to be free and instead have insisted on the old-fashioned strategy of selling something for more than they paid for it. He notes that The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and The New York Times charge for content, and that some have found that the increased revenue of full-price subscribers more than offsets the decline in digital readership.”

In conclusion, Rosen believes that Levine has made a convincing argument about the problems content creators face on the Internet.  He states, “…regardless of your position in the business-of-culture wars, it’s hard to resist Levine’s conclusion that he status quo is much better for tech companies and distributors than for cultural creators and producers.  That status quo may benefit consumers in the short term.  But if it continues, Levine argues, the Internet will increasingly become an artistic wasteland dominated by amateurs – a world where music, TV and journalism are virtually free, and where all of us get what we pay for.”

Categories: Content Protection, Copyright

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