back to article Free Ride: Disney, Fela Kuti and Google's war on copyright

Wars over creators' rights are pretty old – much older than copyright law. In one of the first "copyfights", in 561AD, about 3,000 people died, writes Robert Levine in his new book Free Ride. St Colmcille and St Finnian clashed over the right to make copies of the Bible, with the King castigating Colmcille for his "fancy new …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Turtle

    ...until you have to disburse it.

    "I don't think £7 or £8 a month for all-you-can-eat music is so terrible"

    ..until the time comes to disburse it - "it" being whatever remains after deducting the expenses of keeping track of who listens to what, and who gets what.

    To change the subject, I think that tech companies need to pay for things in the public domain against which they run ads. There is NO reason for these tech companies to become the inheritors of all the value of all humanity's cultural works and achievements - in fact, the very thought is repugnant. These tech companies need to be forced to pay for the privilege of using these works, and the revenue that those works generate must contribute to society, and the world at large, and not merely the bottom line of rapacious web companies such as Google.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Public domain

      "To change the subject, I think that tech companies need to pay for things in the public domain against which they run ads."

      I don't agree, but pay who? "Public domain" means that everyone owns it.

    2. ratfox Silver badge

      Sorry, what?

      Pay for stuff that is in the public domain? Why? The very definition of public domain is that it belongs to nobody. The reason that they make money with the ads is that they go to the hassle of putting up a web site. They are not exclusive inheritors of all the value of all humanity's cultural works and achievements; they are just the only people who actually work their ass off to make it available.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    I agree with everything this bloke says. I used to be a massive downloader of music, or freetard if you will. But since i started using the subscription streaming options, my music downloading has almost stopped. I now stream music to my stereo, and to my phone, so have no need to actually hold any of the music. Ive always advocated that this method would work for me, and i was right; im no longer a freetard.

    now if someone would do the same for movies( streaming, all you can eat, high quality) we would be rocking!

    1. Ru

      streaming, all you can eat, high quality

      Size of a fancy-schmancy high sample rate lossless audio file... lets say 50mb.

      Size of a fancy-schmancy 1080p high quality video with surround sound and blah blah blah... lets say 50gb.

      Given the atrocious state of the broadband market in most english speaking countries, the latter cannot be realistically digitally distributed or streamed as you'll either destroy your 'fair' use limit before you get most of the way through the film, or you'll end up traffic managed to the point where its gonna take 2 more days to buffer the rest of the film.

      I can happily listen to reasonable bitrate MP3 files without my inner audiophile throwing a fit, but I don't intend to be watching films in youtube levels of quality. How about you? Where are you willing to compromise?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        ru your right this is the same coward as above

        the state of broadband does hamper the idea of steaming high quality. But if people are happy to download 700MB video files then they should be able to stream that on as little as a 5mb connection.

        personally i dont watch 700MB avi's but then i have 50mb broadband. But other people do watch this quality, and i suspect they would be happy to pay for it.

        Ive tried love film and other movie streaming services and while the quality was very good, (1080p DD sound etc), the cost of the indivdual films was.... grating. £4.99 for one movie? no thanks

        Id go to £20pm for a service that allows me to stream movies in 1080p. all i can eat. and id be happy to pay it. You may think £20 is quite low but lets be honest here, its £20 that otherwise they wouldnt see, and if there are more people like me, its quite a lot of £20 each and every month.

  3. Paul Crawford Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Shock! Man talks sense about copyright!

    Such a shame the industry and government seem not to have listen to such reasoned arguments, hopefully soon...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Worldwide services

    It's all well and good but if any service is going to match the illegal but convenient option it absolutely has to be worldwide. Spotify won't even let me subscribe, you have to jump through hoops to get some random japanese song from itunes if you don't happen to live there. The result?

    A five second search on whatever illegal method happens to be popular. That is what needs to be matched.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Worldwide services

      Spotify won't let you give them money?

      Are you sure?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Worldwide services

        Well, I recently read about Spotify opening up for business in the US, so I guess he may well be sure. Dividing the planet up into different regions to "exploit the revenue-generating possibilities" or however the content industries would describe their restrictive barriers was something those industries were completely in favour of, so why should the commenter's experiences be in any doubt?

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: Worldwide services

          I presumed the OP is in the USA.

          Spotify is open for business and will happily take his money. So maybe he needs lessons in how to use the interwebs. Or how to pay for things. One or the other.

          1. Tom 35 Silver badge

            I presumed the OP is in the USA.

            Well I'm not...

            Spotify in Canada

            It looks like you're accessing Spotify from outside our launch territiories. In order to buy Spotify premium, you will need a payment card that has been issued in one of our launch territories (i.e. Finland, France, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom or United States). As a Spotify Premium user you will have be able to use Spotify when you travel for an unlimited time period.

            So they will only take my money if I somehow find my self with a US payment card. Maybe something like buying a Japanese iTunes gift card online so you can buy from iTunes Japan... yes a quick google shows market in spotify gift cards.

          2. lIsRT

            Full Circle

            Heh, needing a proxy or some sort of other work-around to pay for music...

            That put a smile on my face.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Not so fast on the levy though please

    Some countries already bowed to pressure years ago and added tax to writable media. Wheres this money going now? Adding any form of tax or 'levy' is stupid. Give it ten years and it will be absorbed by the greedy system.

    The correct option is to let people buy what they need/want, somehow. I think he is correct about the 'people want convenience', its been my own experience. Once something is within a reasonable price range, its becomes all about convenience. Go down to the store or buy it on Steam? Chances are very high Ill buy it on Steam, even if its dearer. People drive to shops nearby, even though the cost is much higher than walking.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    "but very few people are against it on principle"

    Yeah, but your average person won't even know what DRM stands for. You can't use people's ignorance of DRM as an example of why DRM "isn't that bad".

    1. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Ask the wrong question

      "Levine: A lot of people say DRM was huge problem. But when EMI eliminated it, it didn't create a huge boost in sales."

      That's the wrong question. You should ask when you add DRM did it create a huge boost in sales?

      If the answer is no then DRM is not working, and you are paying for something that people hate.

      Even if it was stopping people from copying your stuff (ha!), it's not making them buy it so you are just pissing into the wind.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: "but very few people are against it on principle"

      "Yeah, but your average person won't even know what DRM stands for. You can't use people's ignorance of DRM as an example of why DRM "isn't that bad"."

      Could you point where Levine said that ‘DRM "isn't that bad".’? As far as I can see, he was responding to a question of whether DRM was one of the “culture industries' biggest mistakes” and was replying that in terms of punters buying stuff, DRM proved not to be an issue.

      In any case, are people that ignorant? The reason I ask is that I hear/read far more complaints about the way EA handles DRM on its games, whilst comparatively little about DRM in music – I’ve inferred, rightly or wrongly, that this is because of the way consumers have been affected by it, or rather feel they are affected. When iTunes wasn’t DRM-free, I heard relatively few complaints from actual users of the iTunes Store – but if a CD was copy-protected to prevent ripping, I heard a lot more about it.

      Going back to EA games, the amount of complaints from customers about DRM is well known – just look at the one-star Amazon reviews for Spore, as an example – and not surprising, considering it executes its DRM system. Yet, I hear very little griping about (as an example) Steam’s system of DRM.

      1. JEDIDIAH

        Engineering nice soft bumpers.

        To their credit, Apple has done much to make their DRM seem transparent.

        If you are a good little cult member and don't stray out of the pre-defined boundaries, then the DRM in iTunes is not such a big deal. DRM seems to become much more of a problem when it is a vendor neutral standard or it's bolted on top of something that isn't designed to accomodate DRM.

        Then things "break".

        You see this happen with CDs, DVDs, and BDs all to a varying degree.

        When problems do happen with those optical media, a lot of people might not recognize it as a DRM failure. Saying that the industry has successfully snookered consumers is hardly a compelling reason to suggest they should just continue.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          re: Engineering nice soft bumpers.

          "If you are a good little cult member and don't stray out of the pre-defined boundaries, then the DRM in iTunes is not such a big deal. DRM seems to become much more of a problem when it is a vendor neutral standard or it's bolted on top of something that isn't designed to accomodate DRM."

          Although I would go along with that, music sold via iTunes (except Japan, I think) has been DRM-free for a while - as are the music videos. In 2007, Steve Jobs publicly called on ‘the Big Four labels’ to let their music be sold DRM-free, so the question of DRM wasn’t just down to Apple.

  7. Sean Baggaley 1

    Differing national IP systems is the elephant in the room.

    As 'zef' points out: none of the "official" means of purchasing legal IP works across properly borders. I've even ranted at Apple directly over some of the more Byzantine problems I've had with iTunes.

    I've worked in a number of different countries over the last few years. I'm currently living in Italy, where iTunes is a pale shadow of, say, iTunes UK (or US). I can't get Doctor Who episodes—despite the fact that I can stream them now on the BBC's own iPlayer Global iPad app! Half the features touted in the US version are missing from iTunes.

    Hell even the iBookstore in Italy is stuck in the "Gutenberg Project public domain catalogue" era: there is *NOTHING* in there aside from the "classics". (I.e. proto-Mills & Boon fare written by Jane Austen and her peers, which are considered Literature primarily because they're old. If they'd been published today, they'd be considered basic romance novels.)

    And it's not just Apple, either. Spotify is a mess. Amazon Italia only just opened its doors here a few months ago and is still playing catch-up with its older siblings.

    The problem is that Italian tourists aren't banned from buying music CDs, DVDs or anything else in the UK. So why am I banned from doing the *exact same thing* online? What difference does it make if I want to buy a DVD in English without Italian subtitles or dubbing?

    In short: why the hell does the IP industry go so far out of its bloody-minded way to make it as hard as possible for people to pay them for their products and services?

    Here I am, an ex-pat Brit living in a foreign nation, but as far as these idiots are concerned, I don't exist. Despite the fact that I have relatives who were speaking *seven* languages before they left school, the automatic assumption is that all the world's citizens are like at least half of those who live in the US: parochial, mono-lingual and uninterested in other cultures.

    I *want* to give artists my money, but their agents won't LET me!

    The interviewee in this article is bang-on. I hope rather more people listen to him than to that idiot Lessig.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Hear Hear

      As an Ex-pat currently living in Japan my options are basically nil due to licensing reasons, language reasons (Websites that only allow you to use the Japanese localised version drive me nuts.)

      Until there is REAL globalisation of these services without the artificial boundaries (far chance) piracy will still be the most convenient option for those of us who don't fit into their consumer pidgeon holes.

      1. Daniel Palmer

        Another Ex-pat in Japan

        There's this crazy place called Tsutaya.. they will lend you DVDs and Blurays in exchange for money!!! Learn the 3 or 4 kanji you need to switch the audio to english and/or turn on subtitles and away you go! Even eikaiwa staff can do it!

        >>(Websites that only allow you to use the Japanese localised version drive me nuts.)

        Most people in Japan use Japanese as their first language.. strange that eh?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Har har har

          1. Glad you like renting DVDs, I like playing games.

          2. I am talking about websites for foreign companies who ignore browser language settings and redirect you to their Japanese sites based on your IP and then you have to hunt around for the settings to change it back to English (If they exist) or, if they redirected you to a totally different domain, ways to try and get back without being auto-redirected again.

          1. Daniel Palmer


            >>1. Glad you like renting DVDs, I like playing games.

            Ok, because game rentals aren't allowed here.. there are plently of game recycle shops. Any of them will be happy to sell you games at a lot less than retail price, and will buy them back from you when you have finished with them. Arcades are still pretty big here you know..

            >>2. I am talking about websites for foreign companies who ignore browser language settings

            Most if not all Japanese sites that offer English versions have a link in the top right hand corner for the language... I haven't actually come across a site that doesn't work like that. Being an expat in Japan is actually very easy in comparison to other places.. i.e. my bank operates totally in English, sends me English statements, has online banking in English.

            You might want to not rely on English as a crutch though.. things will get messy when you say, want to go to the dentist on your own without a "friend" to translate for you..

            Bottom line, your choice of living abroad isn't a excuse to pirate stuff. If you were going to anyway fair enough but don't make out you have some honorable reason for it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Crossed wires

              I think there are crossed-wires here. I am not looking for help and my Japanese is fine. I was trying to point out the kind of thinking which drives people to piracy.

              I have steam from when I was in England. I cannot buy loads of games on steam because they are not allowed to be sold in Japan. As such I have to work around it by getting friends / family to gift them to me (Which carries a risk of getting a banned account to boot). Or having to get copies snail-mailed to me. This is a Workaround to a problem caused not by technical limitations but by companies making decisions that screw some of their users.

              Another example: If I want to watch BBC, I can either A) Proxy via UK to access the iPlayer or buy DVDs or I can pirate. iPlayer is wonderfully convenient and I would pay for it, but it is not possible (iPad version aside) for commercial reasons, again nothing technological.

              The second point (Website stuf) was not actually regarding the problem of distribution systems, maybe I shouldn't have brought it up, but again I was trying to use it as an example of the kind of thinking which causes people to get annoyed.

              The point of my post was to bring up examples whereby people are realising that the potential of online distribution systems is being crippled due to commercial aspects which are usually detrimental to the end user (Just ask Aussies about getting ripped of price wise) and are getting angry at that and then feeling justified to pirate stuff because it is just so damn convenient compared to the legitimate, but hugely less convenient, options.

    2. Luther Blissett

      Jane Who

      Sean Baggaley 1 >> I can't get Doctor Who... proto-Mills & Boon fare written by Jane Austen and her peers

      Live the meme - Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus! (Billy Piper did/does). It's a free world, except where it isn't.

      The Doctor, palpably able to visit Mars and Venus on whim, has no need of such memes. Austen ranged equally wide. Were you aware that Pride and Prejudice is the literary autopsy of Hume's Treatise on Human Nature? That when Hume couldn't find a philosophical justification for ethics, the fallout was that morality was justified by convention, custom, and habit. Ethics as a type of manners. Darcy is the personification of Hume's conclusion, seen at the outset in that way by Elizabeth Bennett. Austin, by implication of the storyline, then rejects Hume's thesis. That puts Austen alongside Kant IMHO, and above Bentham and Mill with their utilitarian justifications, as an intellectual giant of the age in not giving in to mass pressure or the herd instinct.

      Next up: the Caveman meme,

  8. Schultz

    A little out of context

    "The culture business is one that generates jobs that are pretty good, and doesn't create a lot of pollution, compared to BP."

    I assume your commute was powered by some nifty tunes today!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      On a slightly more serious note

      BP's actual business doesn't create anywhere near as much pollution as the things people do with their products does. A subtle, but concrete, distinction.

    2. Armando 123

      And to be honest ...

      ... a lot of "popular" culture products could be accurately described as "pollutants".

  9. Throatwobbler Mangrove


    " in Nigeria, you had Fela Kuti, who is still as iconic as he ever was. This generated money sent back to Brazil and Nigeria. Now people are still making the music but not a lot of money is going back. And those countries could use the money. The culture business is one that generates jobs that are pretty good"

    I have to say I am sceptical about whether the amount of money that was repatriated to Nigeria in return for Kuti's intellectual property was a significant contributor to its GDP and whether music "exports" ever employed as many Nigerian musicians as beer drinkers at the Shrine ever did.

  10. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    "it undersells the value of the music"

    Which is what?

    There seems to be some adherence to the labor theory of value here ("I put time and sweat into it, so it's worth X"). Which leads to calls for government redistribution schemes, forced taxation and what-have you.


    If you get pennies, it's worth pennies. If you can't find the paying public, it's worth nothing.

    This is why the marketing industry exists, and this is why distribution gets the lion share.

    And this is why artists should take more control of their distribution channels.

    Additionally comparing the Intellectual Property Output of East Germany with anything, then say that it's low because there was no IP enforcement is, like, you know, pretty weak. Lots of ripping going on over there, right?

  11. ideapete

    Gimme a Link

    To the book so I can BUY it !!!!!!!!!

    This guy makes sense and in this business that's beyond rare

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      now, do you want me to pop round read it to you as well?

    2. Anonymous Coward

      He will not sell it to you...

      Just gives you a non-exclusive license to read it a certain number of times. Remember, mate, this is the new world of IP we're talking about here. Oh, and if it's Amazon, they can take it back any time they wish

  12. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Examples do not prove anything

    And this is what this seems to be. Just because sales for EMI didn't rise when they ditched DRM doesn't mean DRM isn't bad for business. Example isn't correlation, and correlation isn't causality.

    There are many counter-examples, at least equally valid:

    For example look at the early modern German book market as compared to the British one. In Germany there was no strong Copyright, so books could easily be copied. This lead to many people learning to read, and books becoming cheap. This also caused a lot more books to be published and more money for the writers. As opposed to Britain where only the publishers got rich.

    Also it's missing one point completely. The cat is out of the box. We do have uncensored high speed data networks. People are going to "illegally" get what they want. So what now should be done is finding ways to deal with it. Just like the industry found ways to deal with automatic pianos, the radio or even Youtube.

    People usually don't pirate in order to save money. They pirate because they cannot get a paid copy. Many movies will probably never come out on DVD, for example ET (1982, not the 2002 version which is horrible and currently the only available version). Some people cannot afford to pay $20 for a DVD. Also I'm sure many pirates would lovingly give twice of what the artists get from buying the content directly to the artists, but there simply is a fairly useless industry in between.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Explanation needed!

    "People hate DRM in that it won't let them do what they want, but very few people are against it on principle."

    What's the principle of DRM again? That publishers should be able to impose restrictions on how copies may be used. If people hate it because of those restrictions, how are they not against it in principle?

    Maybe the author in question, between lashing out at others, might wish to state that he understands the principle of DRM to be "making sure publishers get paid" or "making sure authors get paid", or even "making sure every copy is paid for", but really that's a separate matter.

    A lot of people aren't able to form an opinion about DRM because they have no choice: CDs in various markets popped up with standards-violating "copy protection" and all the consumer got to know is that the discs didn't play in the car any more. Tell them why and you can be sure they'd be against DRM.

    Publishers have only themselves to blame for spreading ignorance and protecting the supposedly dishonest punters from themselves.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: Explanation needed!

      "What's the principle of DRM again? That publishers should be able to impose restrictions on how copies may be used. If people hate it because of those restrictions, how are they not against it in principle?"

      They might just hate a particular execution of DRM - someone may have no problem with the idea behind something, but how it is carries out is another matter.

      "A lot of people aren't able to form an opinion about DRM because they have no choice: CDs in various markets popped up with standards-violating "copy protection" and all the consumer got to know is that the discs didn't play in the car any more. Tell them why and you can be sure they'd be against DRM."

      If you look back, the real hoo-ha about such CDs were that the packaging didn’t say anything about restrictions. Yes, it’s annoying that there are restrictions, but if you don’t know about such restrictions, it’s more annoying not being able to make an informed buying decision. In the States, one consumer won a court case over this – she argued that if she had known that the CD albums wouldn’t play in a computer, she wouldn’t have bought them (particularly as she didn’t have a stereo and used her computer as a music centre) – this is going back a bit (something like a decade), but after that case, such albums suddenly had such a warning.

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      "People usually don't pirate in order to save money"

      Actually I think they do; the price asked is higher than the price they are prepared to pay or can pay for what they want. Simple as that; go without or take for free.

      1. Duster


        The op is right. Most "piracy" is for stuff you can't get form you would prefer - either unavailable or available with lots of excess baggage. Copyright is so long now and - in the US at least - corporations are effectively immortal and also recognized as "people," many movies are vanishing because they were never popular enough. Songs are not released as singles any longer so paying the price of a decent dinner for a bit of plastic with a three-minute tune on it is too expensive. However if the individual tunes from the disk are available - say on Amazon - then $0.99 or so is a reasonable cost. If it is locked so that it only be listened to on one device, well then it again becomes too expensive.

    3. Thatvoiceinmyhead

      Indeed and why can I not play my legit copy wherever I want?

      Totally agree. Example by way of brief story on how DRM is so poorly implemented by the industry:

      Some time ago I bought (legitimate retail) a DVD movie that I particularly wanted. It came with a Warner Bros voucher for a "free" download copy, knowing I had soon to go on a business trip, I thought this was a great option to put it on my laptop for later viewing.

      Only problem? Laptop upgrade before my trip happened; attempt to download the movie again from Warner's, "no, you've already got a copy." Go through the convoluted "I need a new copy" process, get a download but then it won't play anyway because the keys don't match (original recorded off the voucher and new associated with the later download).

      At that point I gave up and ripped the DVD, which of course is what I should have done in the first place instead of trying to play by the book. These turkeys can't even get simple technology right so how do they expect to compete with easy-but-illegal sites?

      And btw, before any smarta*se comments otherwise, making a copy of a legitimate copyright work is perfectly legal for the purpose of format-shifting or time-shifting where I live.

    4. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      "People usually don't pirate in order to save money"

      Well, for an argument to be convincing, it has to be based on facts.

      1) "They pirate because they cannot get a paid copy"

      Go and correlate the most popular music downloads on Pirate Bay with the current Top 40.

      You can do this now.

      What do you see?

      2) "Many movies will probably never come out on DVD"

      The opposite is true. Most movies only ever come out on DVD. cf "straight to DVD" The limited theatrical release of many movies is to "prove" it's a movie to foreign distributors, but even that isn't necessary any more.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      People usually don't pirate in order to save money.

      Most people pirate because they don't want to spend the money, which is a subtle but important difference.

      All the people I know who pirate stuff are constantly pirating stuff, as soon as a download ends another one is queued up - much of it they will never listen to / watch / play, but they download because they can, there is no additional cost associated in doing so and there is next to no chance that there will be any direct consequences.

      Claiming that people generally only pirate stuff they have tried to pay for and failed is as absurd as claiming that most people using P2P only do so for downloading the latest Linux distro.

  14. A J Stiles


    Simple fact: "Content" is horrendously overpriced for what it is, and the balance of power has shifted so as not to favour the distributors and producers. The industry, in trying to extract payment for every instance of media consumption, are in their own way just as guilty of freeloading as the "freetards". (How many plumbers expect to get paid every time you flush your toilet? No, they do the work, you pay them once and they go away. And they don't complain even if you let other people bizz in your toilet.) Everyone in the industry has had it too easy, for too long, they've got used to it and they don't like that it is coming to an end.

    Just because something was hard work, doesn't somehow automatically entitle you to make money out of it. It was the same for a few people who used to make money importing rare shellfish from the Middle East to make purple dye, before William Henry Perkin spoiled it all by inventing artificial mauve.

    The *only* way to ensure people aren't getting your content without paying for it, is not to create it in the first place. You create, you get ripped off. That's the way it is now -- the tables have turned. Artists have got to eat, but there's nothing stopping them from having proper jobs.

  15. Owen Carter

    Property Property Property.

    Time and Time again the defenders of our traditional Content Creation industries talk about their property. They even use the term 'intellectual property'.

    I don't have any of this 'property', but I have lots of information and stuff I have created; I sometimes consider the information I have to be private, confidential, not for distribution etc. but I never think of it as my property.

    And uber capatilists should be wary of going down this route because:

    If information can be 'my property'; can I charge every company that holds and uses my property (my name and address for instance) rent? arrears for the years they have held it without payment? Can I go to court to demand my property back? Would a policeman need to give me receipt if he asks me whether I 'think I'm Barry Sheene'?

    Be careful what you wish for...

  16. Badvok


    Is the name "Owen Carter" art? Nope, I don't think many would consider that an original artistic work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Original Work

      Take any top 40 hit ...

    2. Naughtyhorse

      Owen Carter...

      is unique!

      (identical twin notwithstanding)

      as are we all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        but the name "Owen Carter" is surely not unique. Owen Carter is not claiming that he has copyright over himself, but over his name (which arguably is his parents' IP anyway so maybe he should be paying them everytime he uses it - word of warning: don't write them a cheque cos then he'd have to write another one for using his signature, and another one, and soon be in an infinite loop of royalty paying) or address (which IP belongs to the local authority / royal mail / house builder anyway).

  17. WonkoTheSane

    Never mind the width...

    Feel the quality.

    The record companies need to make music worth "stealing" again, instead of album after album of utter Cowell.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Not only that

      You can currently spend a lifetime reading totally free books that are pretty current. Or "consume" music that you can get for free. Or install software that has only a transport fee on it.

      "Content producers" take themselves far too seriously. Often they are just the vehicle to stuff a channel with the "new thing" or are riding a fad to fast riches. Or not. They then expect a lifetime of rent from the stuff they did or expect to be handed property überpowers

      Bizarredly, I don't get rent for all the programs I write at work. How is that?

      1. Just Thinking

        Not so bizarred

        "Bizarredly, I don't get rent for all the programs I write at work. How is that?"

        You chose a job where you get paid a salary to write programs. You get paid regardless of whether or not the program creates lots of money for the company. Someone else is taking the risk and taking the profit or loss that results.

        If you don't like it, set up on your own. Then you will get rent from the programs you write ... or lose everything if it doesn't work out.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    I read them all in school.

    Copyright, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

    Had I not realized they were all about me, I'd have posted an enraged comment to my FB wall.


    Disengenuous Nonsense

    So. The summary for this guy and his book starts out with the Bible?

    That's a bit stupid. There's any number of other issues that might be getting muddled here. The fact that this centers potentially around some other "sacred cow" makes it a very poor choice for a starting point.

  20. Paul Thomas 1

    not just music

    Having recently been given an ereader the publishing industry is facing similar problems, they don't want to change their price points, but it intuitively feels wrong to spend as much on a ebook as a physical book.

    They need to either work at educating people as to why the prices are the same (or higher) or change the pricing model, the entire hardback/paperback model doesn't apply, but then if you are going to charge a premium to get an early look say so or bundle something with it.

    On the plus side there are some encouraging signs, the ability to 'lend' books and to put books onto more than one device (as a family we have always shared/swapped books) seems to be gaining acceptance and have seen some good deals on back catalogues when a new book is published.

  21. Andrew Norton


    Is this the same Levine that wrote a piece pimping his book in the Graun the other day, and got demolished by commenters ripping holes in every one of his claims (and backing it with facts?)

    Levine is gracious, yes, but his claims are as reliable as the MPAA's 20054 LEK study they're based on.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Levine?

      You usually disclose your affiliation with the Pirate Party when you post, Andrew. It must have slipped your mind here :)

      My experience over ten years is that the music industry *exaggerates* losses from P2P and underestimates factors such as unbundling. Robert points this out in the book too. Piracy isn't the only reason for the decline in revenue for recorded music.

      But the militant freetards do more a quite a bit more than exaggerate, they refuse to acknowledge there's any net substitution at all. There's absolutely no way they can acknowledge their behaviour is in any way, even slightly, harmful. It isn't a tenable position.

      1. Andrew Norton

        (also untitled)

        I didn't 'disclose my association' with it, probably for the same reason I didn't disclose my association with the record industry, or the TV industry; I'm not CURRENTLY associated with them.

        I resigned from the US party late last year over the actions of some of the officers, and the party, as it was, is being wound down, so it can be reformed with a new structure (to stop the issues I had problems with from happening again).

        It's the same with my record industry work, I worked for a record company, in the late 90s (including the first year of Napster), as a copyright enforcer. I also did TV work, and event work. I don't mention that either, although it could be considered relevant, It's not the sole definer of who I am.

        These days, the majority of my time is spent promoting a UK based distributed computing project - the Muon1 Distributed Particle Accelerator Design project, based at the RAL. In fact, I think I've sent two press releases to the Reg on it this year so far...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      re: Levine?

      "Is this the same Levine that wrote a piece pimping his book in the Graun the other day, and got demolished by commenters ripping holes in every one of his claims (and backing it with facts?)"

      Interesting take on the reader comments – personally, many seemed to me to not to have engaged with what Levine had actually written or reflected that they had understood piece. Some of the ‘facts’ were rather open to debate – and Levine, I felt, did a good case in responding to these.

      Also, commentators didn’t speak with a single voice – but you either knew that or can’t be bothered with little things like a different point of view or facts.

  22. Saigua

    Encouraging Article; some thought going in! Film cred!

    I'm warming up mah flamelazur (it's a sort of Alexander McQueen cut for men and distributed by Target Garden Goods) for the blanket chapter's liability handwaving, but this sort of work has just enough spark to run the 2012 Summer Olympics and maybe the US election.

    All along, wasn't the MP4 format for 3D object-aware television broadcasts supposed to let us allocate props to the right individual ADRs, tweening artists, directors, voice actresses and digeridoo mix controllers? As such, are the design senses for BD player accessory remotes at least burgeoning?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Is this

      aManFromMars's new account?

  23. Grumpy Old Fart

    Physical object full of data = broken business model

    I obviously haven't read the book, because that would be far too much effort for a simple commentard and would not give me the pleasure of sounding off on a subject about which I know very little.

    But from the article he doesn't seem to address the core problem: that the internet is primarily a distribution mechanism for information, and that it breaks any business model that involves filling a physical object with data to distribute it. All the content industries have to deal with this eventually.

    If Levine defines IP as a thing full of information (as he seems to do with the bible story) then it's all doomed to fail, as the idea of filling a thing with data to distribute it will soon seem to be very old-fashioned and pointless.

    Book publishing is the current industry getting trashed by this problem. Why buy a book when you can download the text for free? So far the publishing industry seems to be making the same mistakes as the music industry, as I don't see any 99c book portals springing up but there's hundreds of thousands of ebooks on Pirate Bay for free. The marginal cost of production for an ebook is zero, so a price of even $10 is hard to justify. For a business built on retail prices much higher than that, and accustomed to tiering sales through hardback then paperback then anthology sales, this is going to be an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. The temptation for them to fight to preserve their current model is going to be hard to resist.

    And we're going to have to do this all over again in (say) 50 year's time when 3D printing becomes distributed manufacturing and breaks the business model of anyone making a physical object and distributing it....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE; Cost to make a book

      Problem here is that you are assuming that there are no costs in generating an ebook other than those dependent on providing the book files and taking payment.

      gives a rough breakdown of costs (there are many other sites out there with similar numbers, feel free to Google your favourite) - as you can see the costs for pre-production, author royalties and marketing alone come to about $10 - and that is with only the author making any cash.

      If you look at the numbers closely you see that printing is $2.83 and $2.80 goes to the wholesaler.

      So the most you can knock off the bookshop price is about $5 - $6. OK, this leaves something like $12 to the book seller which would need to cover more overheads in a physical store than through a digital distributor but they will still want to make money. So as in the example you have a $28 paper book you would still have to pay something in the order of $18 for it, any less and you start cutting into wages and the money the author gets personally.

      Remember, to create an ebook you first have to create a book - it still needs writing, editing, typesetting, marketing, proof reading and so on regardless of what the final format will be.

      1. Grumpy Old Fart

        marginal cost

        I did say marginal cost...the cost of producing one more ebook. Which is very very close to zero.

        There are lots of costs currently involved in making a book as you so rightly say. But currently the industry enforces this on all authors because the costs of printing are so large that it's worthwhile hiring an editor, typesetter, proofreader, etc to ensure that the book sells more.

        However, if the book is going to be purely released in ebook format, the cost of publishing is zero, so all of those editing, typesetting, marketing costs are entirely optional. If your book contains errors but you can drop the price to $5 because you don't have to pay a proofreader, will that make you more money? Will more people buy your book because it's only $5 than are put off buying it by the bad reviews because of the errors?

        You could even produce two versions of the book, one at $5 with errors, one at $10 with no errors, the electronic equivalent of paperback and hardback maybe? There's lots of other, different models that might work for ebooks but don't work for paper books. If the publishing houses don't get this then they will have it got for them.

        This world is already here, as anyone who has perused Amazon's ebook market will know. Cost of publishing = zero, so endless cut-and-paste copies of Gutenberg originals being sold for 99 cents. And as the music industry is proving, once you have a reliable online marketplace physical sales dry up. See Borders for details. Brick-and-mortar bookshops are struggling, Amazon is booming.

        It'll be interesting to see how the quality part of the market survives, but there'll always be a demand for a well-written book so it should settle out in the end.

  24. RobLevine

    No holes here

    Yes, it's the same Levine.

    No, the Guardian commenters didn't rip holes in anything. To put it as nicely as I can, they're confused.

    To cite three of many examples,

    A commenter claims that the Pirate Bay never made money. That's demonstrably false. While it's hard to know how much money it made, it was set up as a moneymaking venture, run as a moneymaking venture, and their emails to one another - available in the Swedish court filings - reveal that it's a moneymaking venture. Now let's look at the other side. The idea that it's not a moneymaking venture is supported by . . . their claims. So what do you trust more (in this age of Wikileaks): Their public statements or their private emails?

    Many free culture activists say that studies don't show piracy has hurt the media business. This is a rather eccentric interpretation of the available data. There are two studies that show piracy hasn't hurt the media business - Oberholzer-Gee-Strumpf and Andersen-Frenz. In the first case, Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf retracted their initial claims in a subsequent study. In the second, statisticians have cast a great deal of doubt on the Andersen-Frenz results, and Andersen told me directly that there wasn't much copyrighted music on the Pirate Bay; she doesn't understand the issues at all. On the other side, there are a number of studies - more details of which are here -

    These are not MPAA studies, which, I agree with you, are silly. These are academic studies.

    One commenter pointed out that the movie business must be healthy because box office revenues are up. This just indicates a lack of understanding of the film business; a common mistake that's made by many others. These days, box office revenue usually accounts for 20-25% of a film's overall revenue. The rest comes from DVDs, cable, iTunes and a host of other business models. The most lucrative of these is DVD, and DVD sales have fallen far more than theatrical revenue has increased.

    There are _many_ other examples of this. I don't have the time or energy to summarize a 300-page book on a discussion board with so much hostility; hence, I wrote here and not in the Guardian.

    I think some people misinterpreted my piece, which may have been unclear. When I said that the Internet has destroyed the market for certain goods, I meant just that - there's no longer a normal market where sellers name prices and buyers choose to meet them or purchase competitive goods. I did NOT say that no one can make money, that culture will end, or anything like that. Culture won't go away. However, if you look at countries where IP laws have created a market for media and ones where it hasn't, it's clear that these laws help the culture business invest in products that people enjoy and that generate value and jobs for the economy. I am in no way against independent artists or open-source anything - both are great. I just want to preserve other choices.

    You are certainly free to disagree with everything I say. I wrote the book to start a conversation, not to end one. I hope that conversation is, but I will survive if it isn't. But the kind of comments made in reply to the Guardian piece just don't hold up under serious scrutiny. I encourage you to look for mistakes in my work; I'm happy to correct them. But you'll have to look a lot harder than the Guardian commenters - who, incidentally, could lose their online hangout to the same free business model they so passionately defend.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I’m surprised it’s taken so long, but not surprised by the content – the Google/Harvard Law link had been begging to be blown wide open, as is the whole rights lobby gravy train (lots of academics and lawyers dining their way around the world).

    There are some genuine good guys amongst the FSF and Open Rights Group – but their role has become very much like the fellow travellers - with Google obviously taking the role of Stalinist Russia. An uncomfortable bedfellow, but the only one willing to stand up against your enemies.

    Not sure about the East Germany comparison – some of the stuff I have on Amiga, and other Eastern Bloc labels, is easily as good as anything in the West at the same time, and certainly doesn’t fit the picture of what we expect state-controlled music to sound like.

    Also many of the Eastern Bloc countries had very strong IP law – it’s just that it was all owned by the state, with strong penalties for breaking the state monopoly. Their problem was more one of market failure.

    As for the right not be remixed, an interesting way of phrasing the question is to ask if artists should have the right to refuse to allow their work be used in advertising (or by politicians, which is roughly the same thing). Most people come down on the side of the artist.

    Although perhaps this is because people intuitively get the idea that corporations should not have ‘rights’ to free speech (see also the US Tobacco companies at the moment)?

    As for Grumpy Old Fart - back to the old marginal cost of production argument. It's one that is always seized by one side of the debate as being more relevant than it actually is. The cost of IP based goods has never been that related to the marginal cost - computer games being a particularly fine example (4 to 5 times the cost of music or film on the same media).

    The model has always been about charging the maximum the market will bear, then reducing the cost repeatedly as things go into the back catalogue - with a few exceptions, like The Beatles, or arthouse film DVDs, where reducing the price does not increase sales over the loss in profits.

    Which is a key point in the guys argument - reducing prices does not necessarily increase sales, and if it doesn't, then you have made an error.

    (Or to cite something I know about the music business - it was a lot better to get one person buying a £14.99 CD and 7 people home taping it, than selling 7 people a cassette at £4.99)

    Or flipping it all around - at 99c a book, what kind of books are sustainable in that kind of market - and is that actually a good thing?? (Versus a world in which an author can at least carry on writing on sales of a few thousand)

    I'm actually more positive - it looks to me like people are largely willing to pay for digital goods and digital rentals. Even the 'pirates' only like to download stuff that other people have put a value on.

    1. Grumpy Old Fart


      I don't think I stated my point very well, because you said it better.

      Marginal cost of production being zero just means that you can publish crap profitably. And there's no shelf-space issue so online retail stores will sell your crap happily. You can price it how you like, as you say, but remember that your customers will always have the choice of pirating it for free if they don't like your price. This piracy option is only available because the marginal cost of publishing is zero (otherwise the pirates would be losing money).

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: yarp

        Good post, but MC is not the only factor. Piracy is an option because like sending spam downloading it is consequence free.

        The cost of the 1,900,001st copy of the Daily Mail printed today was about the same as the 1,900,000th. The 2 billionth bottle of Evian cost as much to produce as the one before it. People pay much more to send SMS than the marginal cost of transmission.

        The value of something is not set by production costs, but by what the market is prepared to pay for it. When an alternative is substitutable and free (as you rightly say, Mr Grumpy) and acquiring it is consequence-free, then it's hard to find the true value.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad economics

    And I love this one : "You may think £20 is quite low but lets be honest here, its £20 that otherwise they wouldnt see" - because it's such a common argument.

    Now, I don't know what any of you do for a living, but I'd love to see what you'd say if one of your customers tried that one on. (And if you don't actually do anything that involves selling to customers, humour me for a minute and imagine that you do).

    Which is why the culture market is fragmenting - I've just ordered a 300 copy limited edition album (no digital version available) directly from the artist for £20. Can you even say they are in the same business as Cher Lloyd?

  27. 5.antiago

    Separate "Distributors" from "Creators"

    Good interview I thought, Andrew

    My thoughts on the music industry are that they are looking more and more like parasites each passing day. There are content creators and content shapers (musical producers) and then there are content distributors. It's these content distributors who constitute what I think of when I say "music industry".

    To my mind the role of content distributors is becoming obsolete. I wonder how much piracy is driven by the price of music being perceived as too high by the end-user, and I wonder whether the prices are kept high because of the need to pay these increasingly-obsolete and protectionist middle-men.

    Nobody is arguing that content creators should not receive money for their work! But a lot of people are annoyed that the distributors are shoehorning themselves into a situation where increasingly they no longer belong. In the past content distributors did vital work - it was an essential partnership between creator/producers and distributors. Distributors shouldered the costs and risks of producing the physical media and building the market channels, in return for a significant cut of the profit. Is that partnership needed today? We're entering a new phase where artists don't need labels as much as they used to, and eventually won't need them at all.

    My question is, do the distributors still deserve to take a cut? What is their place in the music production process? What benefit are they bringing to the original creators?

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Separate "Distributors" from "Creators"

      "My question is, do the distributors still deserve to take a cut?"

      I am guessing you don't mean huge distributors of culture like BT, Google(YouTube) or {YourWarezSiteHere}, most of whom return £0.00 to the creators or investors in art. Apple and Amazon and Spotify are "distributors" who return something.

      Choice of the word "deserve" implies morality - and a desire to control the market. Remember that a creator's time is finite. If a middleman allows the creator to focus on their work rather than spending all day raising money and marketing and updating their Facebook page, then that value may (or may not) be worth paying for. It's the creators choice.

      Record labels may be transient but whatever replaces them will still do investment, career development and marketing, which looks a lot like a good record label to me.

  28. Tieger

    needs a title

    "Or flipping it all around - at 99c a book, what kind of books are sustainable in that kind of market - and is that actually a good thing?? (Versus a world in which an author can at least carry on writing on sales of a few thousand)"

    Quite a lot of perfectly good books, i'd say. mostly, though, it'll be the ones written because someone actually has an interesting story, or something insightful to say, rahter than just because they want to make some cash and have a contract with a publisher already. maybe in a world like that we wouldnt have been subjected to the abominations that were the last 3-4 Harry Potter books.

    Authors that are writing purely for money, rather than because they actually have something interesting to write, dont *deserve* to be able to make a living off it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Please accept my condolences that you were tied down and forced to read 3-4 "abominations that were the last Harry Potter books" - please be strong and know that we are all here for you in helping to rebuild your shattered life - I have requested that all rape crisis centres, victim support groups and bereavement charities cease their obviously less important work immediately and quickly move onto helping you through your terrible time.

      "Authors that are writing purely for money, rather than because they actually have something interesting to write, dont *deserve* to be able to make a living off it."

      Are you seriously that fucking stupid?

  29. Identity

    One caveat

    "If you look at West Germany, they produced Herzog, Fassbinder, Can, Neu! and Krautrock. In East Germany they produced, well, maybe some good TV shows, but not ones they could export."

    An example like this fails to take into account another kind of culture: political culture. In countries such as East Germany, Nigeria and Brazil (during those years), one was severely restricted in what one could say, even in music, without getting arrested, (In Brazil, there were 'coded messages' by way of metaphor. In Nigeria, Fela Kuti WAS arrested on trumped-up charges.). Such restrictions are bound to limit the quality and quantity of art. You can't lay it all —or even mostly— on copyright schemes.

  30. RobLevine

    East German question

    >>>Not sure about the East Germany comparison – some of the stuff I have on Amiga, and other Eastern Bloc labels, is easily as good as anything in the West at the same time, and certainly doesn’t fit the picture of what we expect state-controlled music to sound like.

    Can you recommend some interesting acts? Part of my interest is as the author of this book; if I'm wrong, I'd like to know. Mostly, tho, I'd like to find out about interesting music. In Berlin, I've become quite a fan of Der Krautrock. Everything I've heard from East Germany has been very derivative. But maybe I'm looking in the wrong place.

    >>>In countries such as East Germany, Nigeria and Brazil (during those years), one was severely restricted in what one could say, even in music, without getting arrested. . .

    But EVEN THEN this music did well! I wouldn't claim that this music happened only because of copyright; that's stupid. What I am saying is that, generally speaking, countries with working IP systems have more valuable culture sectors than ones that do not, and that this lets that have certain kinds of culture that would be impossible without it. (These days, that means professional-looking films; I've seen a few Nollywood productions and they're cool, but the sound is so bad you can barely hear the actors.) If you can make money on something, you'll tend to put money into it.

    It's certainly interesting to hear technology companies say that the US and the UK have broken IP systems when they export more culture than any other countries. Both systems could be improved, of course, and this is hardly conclusive. But you get the feeling they must be doing something right.

  31. The Grinning Duck

    I’m too old for this shit. And they’re doing it wrong.

    All this chin scratching and looking at who’s screwing who is all fine and well, and does indeed make for interesting reading, but why is it these articles never seem to ask the people doing the pirating why they’re doing it? It’s not that hard to do. When you do look at the reasons they give, the issue suddenly, and rather dramatically, widens way beyond ‘freetards’ and ‘evil’ record labels.

    When I was sixteen, I had a part time job and two passions; skateboarding and music. All of my money went on those two things. All of it. It was the mid 90’s, the music scene was vibrant and exciting, it never rained and Wagon Wheels were fucking massive (easily the size of your face). Life was awesome. Skateboarding has always had a close link with music, and my peers and I lived and breathed both, they were simply all that mattered, as far as I remember there were only two shops in town; the skate shop and the independent music shop. Fast forward sixteen years to the present day and not much has changed for me. Well, I earn a lot more, and I no longer have to pay for the skateboards, but the music scene is still vibrant and exiting (if you know where to look) and I still spend a lot of money on music. Wagon Wheels are smaller (or maybe my face is bigger), but life’s still awesome. But the kids at the skatepark, the little versions of me? Well something’s happened there. They’re skint, they’re stressed and culturally speaking, they’re utterly detached.

    That part time job I had at sixteen is no longer held by a teenage skater, it’s held by a twenty-something who has a degree. Where I used to go to two or three gigs a month at a fiver a show, the young ‘uns can only tag along if us older guys pay the £15+ for their ticket (and go through mindboggling hoops to persuade the doorstaff that they really are 18, honest). Where we used to sit at the skatepark talking about music, girls and well, just music and girls really, the kids are worrying about getting shanked on the way home and whether or not getting a C in GCSE Maths means they’ll have to join the army. But the kids do listen to a lot of music, almost all of which they get from torrents. They’re not making a statement by using torrents, they’re not making a stand for freedom of information; they’ve got other shit to worry about. They don’t pirate the odd track here and there, simply put, the torrent sites are where they get music from.

    Ok, they’re skint, but on top of that, they don’t care about bands. Scenes, a bit, but not individual bands. Labels only seem to focus on a band for one album, two at a push, before moving onto someone else. Even the indies are guilty of this now. How do they expect kids to develop an attachment to a band if they’re only around for 5minutes? It’s that attachment that will make them spend the little they do have. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been driving a van full of skaters to a park, plugged one of the young ‘uns phones into the stereo, heard something cool, asked them who it is only to be met with the reply; “Dunno, I just downloaded it last night, I’ll facebook you the link later” It’s not that they don’t like the music; they love it, it’s just that the band is bizarrely no longer important, to them it’s simply a cool sounding noise that will be on their phone for a week until it’s replaced by something else. If I try and suggest they’re potentially damaging the artist, they don’t care. There’s nothing mean or callous in their reaction, it just simply doesn’t register as a valid point to them; they weren’t expecting that band to be there next week, so why would they worry? That’s a part of what I mean when I say they’re culturally detached, and rather than rectify this, the ‘culture industry’ seems hell bent on exasperating the issue by being even more flippant with bands than the kids are. If that were possible. And it’s the kids the industry needs to impress, I mean, if you’re 30 and torrenting music, that’s not lost sales, the industry was never going to make any money out of you, but if you’re 16 and doing it? Well, that does mean lost sales because it’s the habits and traits you pick up in your teens that drive your spending when you do eventually have disposable income.

    We can sit here all we want and argue the toss over the rights and wrongs of piracy and copyright laws, but unless they find a way to really engage the kids, long term, the industry will remain spectacularly fucked. While I think that’s a great shame, and the labels are partly to blame, the issue is way, way deeper than IP and copyrights.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019