Taming the Internet's Wild West


Friday, November 18, 2011

For as long as there's been a World Wide Web, there's been a giant unresolved issue with what’s on it: those millions of songs, videos, TV and movie clips we enjoy for free — somebody owns each one.

Now Congress is trying to tame the internet's wild west. This week the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the Stop Online Piracy Act. (A companion bill in the Senate called the Protect Intellectual Property Act awaits consideration.) The legislation would make websites that host content — such as YouTube, owned by Google — liable for the unauthorized trade of pirated content. The law would also ban Americans from going to foreign sites that host bootlegged material.

The law pits movie studios and record labels, which have long tried (largely in vain) to protect their copyrights online, against tech companies and some public advocacy groups, which believe the law will hinder the free exchange and hamper innovation. SOPA has created some strange bedfellows, with tech companies and members of the Tea Party teaming up in opposition.

Robert LevineRobert Levine
(Jo Bayer)

Robert Levine thinks internet giants have gotten away for far too long with freeloading off of the culture business. Levine is the author of the new book Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. He draws a distinction between the creativity fostered by the internet and the endemic piracy that, he says, is sucking our culture dry. "There's this idea that goes back to the mid-1990s that you can't enforce any laws on the internet; that it's this libertarian free state,” he tells Kurt Andersen. “What technology companies see as onerous regulation I see as enforcing my rights ... You have to separate the cultural vitality on the internet — the remix culture — from copyright infringement."

    Music Playlist
  • Free Ride
    Artist: Edgar Winter
    Album: They Only Come Out at Night
    Label: Sbme Special Mkts.
    Purchase: Amazon


Robert Levine

Produced by:

Michele Siegel

Comments [12]

murka from text

hey i love justin bieber so much he a great song that is good.

Apr. 03 2012 01:52 PM

I agree with Levine.

Most (like 99.999%) of the anti-SOPA arguments I've heard are based on disinformation.

This can easily be seen by noticing how people claim that SOPA will:
1. Destroy the internet, shutdown legitimate websites like youtube
2. Not be powerful enough to stop any piracy.

How can both of these things be true? It just doesn't make sense.

Also that people are so afraid of giving the government censorship abilities, while simultaneously supporting google, who can easily censor the internet at will with little consequence.

Jan. 26 2012 01:49 PM
Mike Chastain from Portland Or

You should definitely include another guest on the other side of this issue. I shudder to think what would happen if my yuppie baby boomer parents ever came across this piece as the only thing they knew about SOPA. They would be sorely misguided...and they are the voting majority.

Jan. 05 2012 01:12 AM
icewater from East Coast

he background information was presented with language and attitude that was quite favorable to the guest. Just an observation.

To Robert Levine: While I personally don't care whether the culture "industry" survives or not, I do believe copyright is a legitimate legal concept and that created works deserve its protection.

That said, it's incredibly narrow-minded and self-centered to stand in favor of censorship, access controls, and violations of online privacy and anonymity in an effort to protect your scrap of turf.

Enlist law enforcement and the courts to go after the evil-doers, Mr. Levine - don't empower the government to take a mallet to everyone else's access to information. I know enforcement is challenging, but if it comes down to a choice, I'm content to let the culture "business" perish.

Dec. 16 2011 05:49 PM
Robert Levine

>>>His opinion reeks of someone being paid to gather support for an outdated and dying business model.

While the online world is rarely polite, I wanted to clarify one thing: I have never been paid by anyone I cover in the book, with the obvious exception of Random House (my publisher) and a few publications I have written for. In _every single case_, I mentioned this. Few on the other side of this debate are as scrupulous.

Also, I hardly believe that selling things is either outdated or dying. Indeed, it's the only online business model that seems to work. (And, incidentally, I live in Berlin and I've found it fairly easy to get any media I want here; you might try Amazon UK, which delivers to Germany.) I cover many of your other points in the book; I just want to make clear that my opinions are my own.

Nov. 20 2011 03:28 PM

Levine's perspective is narrow, antiquated and detrimental to the greater discussion. His opinion reeks of someone being paid to gather support for an outdated and dying business model. Tougher laws and restrictions on the web is not the way forward. The web is a global medium, its time to think about working with its potential not against it.

I live in Germany, though i am not German, it is difficult to find new English content. Most online content is only available to the citizens of a particular country. It is either blocked by the content provider themselves or German authorities for whatever reasons. As an English speaker locked out of an online English speaking world I understand why piracy exists. BUT, I don't believe it needs to, i think the prohibitive attitudes of online content providers enable it. I would happily buy content if it were available to me in my location. This inability to see the potential of sharing and immediacy is a fundamental problem. Content providers aren't seeing what consumers want, globally.

As an independent creator copyright does little to protect me online or off. Tighter regulation of the internet will not empower or protect the income of independent producers. The Stop Online Piracy Act only has the interests of major entertainment and content businesses in mind.

I recently listened to a presentation by Jeremy Rifkin at the RSA. He had some interesting perspectives on the internet and renewable energy that i found relative to this discussion. Looking at the potential of online sharing.

Nov. 20 2011 02:06 PM
Steven N. Severinghaus from Sunnyside, NY

That was the most credulous discussion of SOPA that I've heard since that particular turd of legislation started swirling around in the toilet bowl of Congress. How can you not even mention the full-page spread in the NYT sponsored by the giants of the Internet?

Nov. 19 2011 04:19 PM
Jean Jules Fogang from Silver Spring, MD

Piracy is a real issue that should be addressed accordingly. Did Congress take into account all the complexity of the matter? A quick-fix will only add to the current confusion.

Nov. 19 2011 04:00 PM
B. H.

Dear Studio 360,

I am a longtime fan, and usually love your work, but this piece was EXCEPTIONALLY bad reporting, and a real disservice to your listeners.

If you had just stuck to covering Levine's book, it might have been fine to present his views unopposed, but you didn't.

You asked him to speak on behalf of all artists and their views. You asked him to characterize both sides of a very contentious debate, arguing the points that might be made by his critics, and then giving him a platform to debunk their views. You even let him critique an advocacy website that he disagreed with, casting aspersions on their funding sources without providing any context or push back on his own economic motives.

What you ended up with was a pointed editorial on a live public policy debate, masquerading as cultural reporting.

I don't even know where I come down on the Stop Online Piracy Act, but this piece was clearly skewed, weak, and disappointing. And, it is a bad piece, on an issue that I would have expected to be at the center of your wheelhouse on Studio 360.

I would love to know how you plan to take on this issue in the future. Chilling internet freedom is not a trivial issue, and this weak offering seems to demand a much more serious treatment by you, and soon.

Nov. 19 2011 03:04 PM
Kevin Maness

P.S. I recommend Siva Vaidhyanathan and/or Lawrence Lessig, maybe Jonathan Zittrain as people eminently qualified to speak to this issue.

Nov. 19 2011 09:03 AM
Kevin Maness from Eastern Unoversity, St. Davids, PA

Bad form on the SOPA piece. Since when is it responsible journalism to invite one speaker, committed to one side of a controversy, to speak without opposition? As even your speaker said, there are two sides to this issue, and I'm disappointed that you didn't reflect that adequately.

I love Studio 360, as before, but this was a bad moment.

Btw, I second Jon's comments, above.

Nov. 19 2011 09:01 AM
Jon Parris

Hi Kurt and co,
I was saddened by the little thought and discussion that went into this segment. For Better or worse SOPA is going to begin censorship of the US internet. I have a couple of points.

1) It won't stop anybody, removing websites from the DNS tables won't stop access of these sites. By entering the ip address of site I'll still be able to access it. IE leads to demoind a well known bit torrent tracker.

2) Because you can't stop the public. You make it illegal to do so. There a couple of tools (ssh and vpn) shipped with every Mac that will be illegal. More importantly Tor, which helped fuel the Arab spring by bypassing those countries censorship, will be illegal in the "free" country where it's developed.

3) The claim that he doesn't have any tools protect his books is simply false. Congress has passed a series of legislation in recent years: DMCA in 1998, Pro-IP in 2007, ACTA in 2011. All of these expand his ability to request a site to take down a file.

4) It's worth noting that Justin Bieber began as a pirate! He got famous by covering songs and posting them to youtube. And for the sins of next Bieber youtube could be gutted.

Finally all these measure are just so we hope the movie industry can sell a few more movies? A Business model based on controlling their users (suing downloaders, drm, and now censorship) is not a business model.

Can we please have a response from someone on the other side? The NYT best selling author who gives his books away Cory Doctorow would be a good choice.


Nov. 17 2011 08:17 PM

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