Around this time last year, I started to pull apart the arguments in Robert Levine’s then-new book, Free Ride. Its subtitle pretty much tells the whole story: “How digital parasites are destroying the culture business, and how the culture business can fight back”.
In that post, I said I would “come back to Levine’s core arguments another time; they deserve a full assessment.” I never came back.
The book was so old-media focused that I couldn’t find a credible hook. As well, I’d heard Levine speak at an event earlier this year, and I found him to be more interested in a punch line than an intellectually honest assessment of what copyright and business models might look like in a digital age.
Fortunately, Nate Hoffelder, writing at The Digital Reader, recently took up the charge. After hearing Levine speak at an industry conference, Hoffelder posted the critique I wished I had written: “Robert Levine hates me (and I’m cool with that)”.
As Hoffelder notes:
"No offense to the publishing industry folks reading this, but the company you work for is in no way required for the creation of culture. Content is created by people, not companies. An independent artist or author can still work with many of the same people hired by the publishers or record labels without involving the companies in question…. [Levine] has conflated the process of producing content with the companies performing the process, while in fact one need have nothing to do with the other."
Toward the end of his post, Hoffelder comes back to explain “Why hate is the right word”. He talks about the way that Levine describes Megaupload’s Kim Dotcom, ultimately observing “The author’s word choice is indicative of his emotional investment in the topic. If he were arguing this from a matter of principle, he would have avoided being nasty about it.”
This is an important point. If we’re going to make progress on the issues that divide us, it doesn’t help to demonize the other parties. It also helps to stick with principles, not personal attacks.
To his credit, Hoffelder was given a physical copy of the book as a conference give-away, but he bought a digital version to help him search it more effectively. He’s willing to pay for content, strengthening his arguments all the more.