Well, some of them are, anyway. In a smart and thorough review, Businessweek calls Free Ride “a timely and impressive book.” Obviously, I’m biased. But I like the way the review captured the events I’m reacting to, as well as a sense that the current dysfunctional market for media online simply isn’t sustainable. “Know that old Irving Kristol maxim that a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality?” writer David Kamp asks. “Well, Free Ride is the book for the Net utopian who has been mugged by insolvency.” I hope this is the case, since there certainly seem to be a lot of them out there.
Fortune calls my book a “smart, caustic tour of the modern culture industry.” This review, too, conveys a sense of being mugged – perhaps by consultants with faith-based business strategies. “Levine points out that after nearly two decades of dreamy, collectivist rhetoric about cyberculture, crowdsourcing, citizen journalism and the like, professional media organizations still produce the bulk of compelling online content,” Richard McGill Murphy writes. And as he shows, I have the statistics to back this up.
I further explore some of these ideas in interviews with Salon, AdWeek, and the Los Angeles Times. In the first case, especially, many commenters attack me for disliking technology or favoring blockbuster culture – neither of which I ever say. I like technology, and my own taste run toward more adventurous music. At the same time, I think that creators should be compensated for their work and technology companies need to follow laws – and there does seem to be evidence that many people prefer the Transformers movies to anything under a Creative Commons license.
Apparently, this doesn’t sit well with everyone. Techdirt, which specializes in sputtering outrage against creators who assert their rights, has decided that it wants a market for everything except creative work. “While it’s true that copyright law creates a market for copyright, there’s no economic evidence that that, in itself, is desirable,” the blog says. “If you have something that is infinitely reproducible, such as ideas, to put artificial limitations on them is economically inefficient and limits growth.”
Where to begin? First, copyright law does not limit the spread of ideas – period. (It only covers specific expressions of ideas.) Second, this is the law of the land. “The Framers intended copyright itself to be the engine of free expression,” according to a majority opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a 1985 case. “By establishing a marketable right to the use of one’s expression, copyright supplies the economic incentive to create and disseminate.” Third – and this is something that techies just can’t seem to get their heads around – the professional creative work that accounts for a substantial share of Internet traffic isn’t generated by computers or by artists suckered into signing away their rights to Sergey Brin’s mother-in-law. Not only does this work create growth and jobs in media businesses, it practically created the Internet as we know it. Finding this work is what most people use the Internet for.
These days, technology companies like to claim they don’t need professional content to succeed – that they can do just fine transmitting home videos and amateur writing. If that’s true, though, why are they so intent on signing deals with media companies?