DRM bashing is an Internet well-established sport. Famous web sites, such as TechCrunch, Wired or ZDNet, which are otherwise extremely interesting, have a biased view about copyright, content owner, and copy protection. The position of lobbying groups, such as EFF, are in the same mood. In a nutshell, according to them, copyright laws and content owners are killing the Internet.
“Free ride” from Robert Levine is taking the opposite point of view. He shows that denying copyright on the Internet is actually killing the Internet.
He describes the battle between three giant groups with diverging interests. On one side, the media industry wants its cultural goods to be paid, even on the Internet. On the other side, the Internet companies want information freely to flow. The more information available (even pirated one), the more advertisement revenues for the Internet companies and pirated sites. In the middle, the telecom companies initially benefited from piracy because it was a strong attractor for broadband adoption. Now, piracy is claimed to consume a too large part of the available bandwidth, and starts to hurt these telecom companies.
The book clearly highlights these diverging interests. It also draws a landscape of the current lobbying battlefield (by showing who is financing groups such as EFF, who Google finances…).
Levine’s message is that valuable content is costly to create. He also explains that creation is not sufficient, if not combined with promotion which is also costly (see Should you invest in the long-tail?). Without such investment, valuable content will disappear. Free riders (i.e. companies that use the content without rewarding the creators) and piracy will kill the economical incentive to create. The result would be a free Internet without valuable content to propose. In other words, rather than creating the promised bright cultural future, Internet may create a poor cultural future. The fact that distribution and production has a cost nearing zero on the Internet should not hide the fact that creation has a cost. Dematerialisation often hides this cost. User generated dontent or crowd-sourced content is not necessarily at the same level of quality than professional created content.
He claims that the business models proposed by the Internet companies do not fit the economical constraints of valuable content. As such, he is opposed to Free: the future of a radical price.
This book is refreshing because it gives an argumented position against the widely diffused position of the Internet companies. In a democracy, it is paramount for a sound debate to hear both sides of the story. Thus, read also this book, and only then, make your own opinion.
Conclusion: if you regularly visit my blog, then you should read this book. It is at the heart of our industry.