Friday, December 9, 2011

In praise of: The Literary Review

In the September issue of the Literary Review (the issue currently available here in New Zealand) Joan Smith considers Robert Levine’s Free Ride: How the internet is destroying the culture business and how the culture business can fight back. The Businesweek review of the book is here, here is the Guardian and here is the New York Times. See what I did there? Illustrated the book’s theme, that people on the internet steal content.

The book sounds like a good, thoughtful discussion of the issues. Near the end of her review Smith writes that Levine is:
right to argue for a “content tax” – effectively collectively licensing – that would allow media companies to collect revenue in a system modelled on one that allows music companies to collect for radio play. 
She would say that, wouldn’t she: she is on the board of ALCS, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society which is the UK equivalent of New Zealand’s CLL, Copyright Licensing Limited (disclosure: I am on its board) which does the same job of licensing the use of copyright works. Digitisation is a huge issue for all such rights organisations – it was relatively easy to manage photocopying in schools and libraries but e-books open up a whole new Pandora’s box of digital worms.

Smith continues:
But I’d have liked to have seen him address one of the most peculiar effects of the Internet, which has been to suspend the moral obligations that consiumers observe in their offline behaviour. I’m not aware of instances where shoppers who insist on “free content” via the Internet put the same principle into practice in Tesco’s, clearing the shelves and refusing to pay on the way out. Why some people feel it’s OK to expect something for nothing when they consume online, but not in shops, is a fascinating area for research.
Seems clear enough to me: people feel anonymous online, just as looters do in a riot. Which is why people who would never steal from a bookshop will happily download from Pirate Bay.

On the next page John Sweeney (“There are three rules in journalism. First, find a crocodile. Two, poke it in the eye with a stick. Three, stand back and report what happens next”) reviews DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, cybercops and you by Misha Glenny, which is about the hackers who steal credit-card data, and along the way shows that England is just as two-degrees of separation as New Zealand is:
The Nigerian, Adewale Taiwo, got four years but served less than two. He was threatened with confiscation proceedings for his ill-gotten gains of some £350,000. At the hearings the prosecutor mislaid a key file, and the judge, Graham Robinson – he pinched my girlfriend one billion years ago, but that’s another story – got fed up and declared the amount swindled to be just £53,000. Taiwo preferred to spend a further  year in prison rather than hand over the cash, but the prison authorities let him out anyway to deport him back to Nigeria.
The magazine unfailingly reviews unpredictably interesting books and matches them with predictably interesting reviewers. It is, imho, best in class.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I remember when it was new and I was young. I had a subscription. I subscribed also to Encounter and the TLS. I was seventeen.