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

Lawrence Lessig's work 'isn't worthy of a Harvard prof'

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So how are you going to fix this, then?

Q: You spend a chapter on blanket licenses in the book. And the reaction from creative industry people who have liked the book has been mostly critical of this idea. Doesn't a blanket jar with your advocacy of markets?

Levine: The ideal is we have a market. People will pay for Spotify or downloads or new services, but if we can't get that a blanket is an option.

When you signed up to an ISP you could choose if you wanted the music add-on. The government creates a situation where you can get such a deal. With your ISP you'd tick a box: "Yes, I want $5 for all the music I want." If you don't tick a box, then you'll get check at random and there'll be a substantial penalty. Not $500,000, but say $500 – like a speeding ticket.

Q: I really liked this idea for a while, but eventually I couldn't get around some problems. It's a tax that penalises people who doesn't do online music, and it undersells the value of the music. And everyone else will want a piece.

It also sets the limit for the amount of money the market is worth.

Levine: I wouldn't call it a tax: it's not a tax. A tax is imposed. It's a levy. When Jim Griffin launched his Choruss plan everyone called it a music tax and said you have to pay for music. Well, guess what – you already have to pay for music. Jim wasn't trying to get people to pay for something they're not doing. If you want to listen to music in a restaurant, you're already paying. You always have to pay for music. It's just that it is a levy, it is part of the bill, and the collecting society makes it easy.

'A blanket licence is terrible for everybody compared to an ideal world. But you have to compare it to what's happening now'

You'd have to do it so it added up. By mobile device not by ISP for example. So you could get a little more that way. You could create add-ons. You could offer people the right to upload their own stuff. Or play it in their living room stereo as well as on their computer. I don't think £7 or £8 a month for all-you-can-eat music is so terrible.

Q: Not exactly a market solution is it?

Levine: A blanket licence is terrible for everybody compared to an ideal world. But you have to compare it to what's happening now.

When YouTube goes to the culture industry and says, "We have all your video: do you want to get something, or nothing?", are they not in effect setting a price? Some of this is already happening. It's really bad, but it's happening. You can't turn the clock back. It might be an idea to think about it before a blanket is imposed.

To fix things, you need to do two things. You need to make illegal commerce harder, but your success is going to be based on legal commerce: don't choose one or the other. You need to make Rapidshare a pain in the ass to get to and inconvenient, and also make something like UltraViolet as easy to use as possible. ®

Robert Levine's Free Ride blog is here.

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