roblevine1 has written 40 posts for FREE RIDE

“Free Ride” in Dublin

I’m thrilled to be going to Dublin in late January to talk about “Free Ride.” On January 24, at 6:30pm, I will give a talk at Hodges Figgis – the kind of cool, old Dublin bookstore where every writer dreams of speaking. The next day I will speak at the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland’s “Digital Biscuit” conference, where I will appear with Bill Whelan. (I have to confess that I don’t quite get the title, but this seems like a great event.) Later that afternoon, I will address the Institute of International and European Affairs at 1pm. If you can come to any of these events, please say hello.

Me in NYC

Since I haven’t spoken much in New York this year, I wanted to mention that I’ll be giving a keynote speech at the Copyright and Technology 2012 conference. I’ll be “opening” for David Lowery, a talented musician, as well as a vocal advocate for musicians in a debate that could certainly use more of them.

If you read this blog, you can register for the conference at a discount – $100 instead of $400, which isn’t quite free, but it’s not too shabby. (You need to use a discount code: 100GBRJYH.) You should also say hello.

Visby and London

Last week I went to Visby, Sweden, to speak at Almedalen Week, a political event that involves a series of speeches and policy discussions on the island of Gotland. Although I couldn’t understand everything, since I don’t understand a word of Swedish, I was happy that my ideas got a good reception in the country where the Pirate Party emerged. Indeed, to judge by my admittedly limited conversations, it seems like Sweden is quickly getting over the idea that all content must be free.

I also did some interviews with Swedish media, which I wanted to post here. Dagens Nyheter, one of the major dailies, shot an interview with me that you can see here, and Swedish public television’s web site covered my book here. This one is in Swedish, so I haven’t read it myself.

On Friday I flew to London, where the great Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl interviewed me at an Association of Independent Music event – good fun, since I’m used to being on the other end of these conversations. I should have video of that in a few days, but there’s a decent description of it here.

Update: Here’s another piece about the book, in Sweden’s Journalisten.

King of the Road

This has nothing to do with the normal subject matter of this blog, but please indulge me. On May 10, Carroll Shelby died at the age of 89. If you know anything about cars, you know what a legend he was, and what a loss this is. If you don’t, well, Shelby designed the Shelby Cobra and the Shelby Mustang and led the famous Ford racing team that beat Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966 and 1967. He was also, at various times, an Army Air Corps flight instructor, a race car driver, a big-game hunter, and the inventor of the chili cookoff.

I interviewed Shelby for a 2006 Vanity Fair story, so I was lucky enough to hear some amazing stories about his remarkable life. And after warning me that “ah’m almost 83 and I’ve had a heart transplant,” he raced me around Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds fast enough to take a couple of years off my life.

They aren’t making any more like him.

A Book Review – Of Another Book

The Wall Street Journal just ran my review of the new book by William Patry, How to Fix Copyright. As I write, Patry is a respected legal scholar, and he has plenty of smart, sensible ideas on the subject. But the biggest problem with copyright laws is that many technology companies do whatever they can to ignore them, and Patry doesn’t offer practical suggestions on how to change that.

In the comments section, Patry expresses disappointment that “The Wall Street Journal chose to have my book reviewed by an extreme partisan rather than by someone on staff who might have an objective view.” While I welcome his thoughts, I’m not sure why he’d expect an objective reviewer and I would hardly identify myself as an “extreme partisan”: I favor shorter copyright terms, greater leeway for fair use, and many of Patry’s suggestions. In any case, I hope this will be an interesting discussion of a book worth talking about.

The SOPA Opera

I haven’t posted this week, since I’ve been on vacation. Obviously, between the SOPA blackout and the Megaupload takedown this was the wrong week to take off. But so it goes. I’m still away, but I’ll have more to say on both of these issues next week. Until then, I wanted to point readers to a few pieces on the subject that I think are very smart. I’m not saying I agree with them completely – but I think they’re well worth a read.

-On the day intelligent debate died, technology thinker Jaron Lanier wrote a New York Times op-ed that got to the heart of the debate. This isn’t really a debate about free speech – it’s about how the Internet should work. The problem is that, after mocking the media business for refusing to adjust its business model, large technology companies are trying to preserve theirs.

Andrew Orlowski wrote an amusing analysis of the debate over SOPA and makes a point that can’t be repeated enough: “Last year, Google made 11 million sites disappear on a whim, removing the domains from its search index because the sites were deemed by Google to be “spammy”.” (It had no way of determining that absolutely all of them were.) I don’t have a problem with this. But most SOPA opponents would find this reprehensible, since they object to the idea that Google should de-index sites devoted to piracy. But if it’s OK for Google to exercise good judgement in a way that helps its own business, why isn’t it OK for it to do the same in a way that upholds the law? Like Lanier, Orlowski is especially interesting to read because he knows technology so well.

Jeffrey Rosen wrote an interesting analysis of SOPA in the New Republic that calls it “A Bad Solution to a Very Real Problem.” I admit: I’m biased because he mentions my book favorably. His piece is refreshingly free of the sky-is-falling rhetoric we’ve heard from Google and Stanford. (There’s so little space between them that I will call them either ‘Googford’ or ‘Stanoogle’ from now on.) He, too, makes a point that can’t be repeated often enough: “There are lawyers and lobbies on both sides of the debate, however, and neither side is devoted to the promotion of creativity for its own sake.”

To Live Outside The Law You Must Be Honest

It has become standard operating procedure for companies that want to distribute content online to ask forgiveness instead of permission. The companies themselves pitch this as innovation, then tell rights-holders to file DMCA takedown notices – often by the thousands. By then, of course, they have far more negotiating leverage. YouTube’s offer to the media business could be summarized, in geek terminology, as ‘all your video are belong to us’ – so you might as well take what we give you.

The obvious problem is this: How much can you trust a company that deliberately attempts to profit from the work of others without providing any compensation? (Whether YouTube’s behavior was legal under the DMCA will be determined in court, but emails that came out in Viacom’s lawsuit make it clear that the company’s employees didn’t think they were going to get rich on cat videos.) Ironically, most online streaming services are actually less transparent than major labels when it comes to royalty accounting – and that’s saying something.

So it’s not all that surprising to hear that the online music service Grooveshark has just been sued by EMI – the only major music company it actually had a deal with. (Universal’s suit against Grooveshark is ongoing, and Sony and Warner recently filed suits of their own.) In its complaint, EMI Publishing – the division of EMI that controls the copyrights to songs, not recordings – that it has “made not a single royalty payment to EMI, nor provided a single accounting statement.” Ouch.

This fits with Grooveshark’s strategy – “achieving all this growth without paying a dime to any of the labels” – as outlined by chariman Sina Simantob in a December 2009 email. Much as musicians who want their work removed from the service have to repeatedly file DMCA takedown notices for the same work, perhaps companies simply have to sue in order to get paid. (Grooveshark told The New York Times that this was a contract dispute it expected to resolve.) Sadly, this would hardly be unprecedented in the music business.

If I had to guess, I’d suggest that Grooveshark’s apparent decision not to pay EMI Publishing could even be part of its legal strategy. Remember that EMI Music Publishing controls the rights to songs released by other major labels, some of which are suing Grooveshark. If Grooveshark were to account to EMI Publishing for those songs, it would mean that the company knew how much they were being played. And the DMCA safe harbor only applies if a company like Grooveshark lacks “actual knowledge that the material or an activity using the material on the system is infringing.”

Please keep in mind that this is just a guess: I’m not a lawyer, and the DMCA is a complex law subject to varying interpretations. But it does seem that it would be pretty tough for Grooveshark to pay song royalties to EMI Publishing for a recording owned by Universal Music Group, while at the same time insisting that it doesn’t know which Universal Music recordings are on its site.




Google Gets Personal

As a journalist, when you report facts that companies prefer to keep hidden, they usually call you to tell you how you got something wrong. Sometimes, they tell other reporters how you got something wrong. Every once in a while, If they can’t find anything wrong, they resort to personal attacks.

Here’s an example from a Google lobbyist.

Naturally, he was also a fellow at the Berkman Center.

More, More, More

I am honored by two recent reviews of Free Ride. On his Copyright and Technology blog, Bill Rosenblatt discusses the book as a counter-narrative to the conventional wisdom (which he calls The Script). And in a commentary, Andrew Keen calls Free Ride “one of the most impressive of this year’s non-fiction books, amid respected works by Tyler Cowen and James Gleick.

I am also happy to share a new interview. And I will leave you with one of my final comments to the reporter who did it: “Google is not Woodstock; it’s a technology company.”


These Just In

I’m happy to say that “Free Ride” keeps getting media attention – which means I keep getting chances to run my mouth about the issues that face the media business online.

Here is an interview I did with The Wrap about piracy, pricing, and the future of the media business in general. Since it’s a business site, I got the chance to talk in some depth about the exact nature of the media’s problems, as well as potential solutions.

I’m also thrilled to be the subject of “The Sunday Conversation” in today’s Los Angeles Times. In 1994 – in what seems like another world – my first job out of graduate school was an internship at the Los Angeles Times Calendar section, where I covered minor music news, wrote about small films, and profiled a movie-set “Baby Wrangler.” It was “intern stuff,” in other words, and I did it in “intern style” – with much more enthusiasm than expertise. It wasn’t always easy, but I had a blast and I learned a lot. Whatever the journalism businesses of the future look like – digital or analog, big or small – I hope they have the organizational stability to give young reporters the same learning opportunities.

What people are saying

"A wonderfully clear-eyed account of this colossal struggle over the future of our cultural lives."
—Bill Keller, New York Times

"A book that should change the debate about the future of culture."
—New York Times Book Review

“A timely and impressive book.”

A “smart, caustic tour of the modern culture industry.”


Buy My Book


Hodges Figgis bookstore
6:30pm, January 24
Dublin, Ireland

Digital Biscuit conference
11:15am, January 25
With Bill Whelan
Dublin, Ireland

Institute of International and European Affairs
1pm, January 25
Dublin, Ireland


Keynote speech,
OnCopyright 2012

Keynote speech,
Canadian Music Week

Keynote speech,
Brussels Creators Conference

Television interview,
"The Agenda with Steve Paikin"

Keynote interview,
World Copyright Summit

Speech on journalism,
USC's Annenberg School