Bodley Head, £18.99, 320pp. £17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Free Ride, By Robert Levine

My eldest geek daughter and I were helpless with laughter the other night, rapt at our screens before another webcast discovery. We had found a brilliant "mash-up": footage of the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster, lip-synching precisely to the Tom Waits song "God's Away on Business". Such a diverting, obsessional labour of love is what we celebrate about the internet - amateur energies coursing through democratic tools, coming to mass attention from nowhere.

But what might the intellectual-property lawyers from Henson Enterprises, or Waits's record label Anti, have to say about such a wisp of joy? Should they be fully empowered to discourage such irreverent bricolage, with punitions and legal threats, as a compromise of their intellectual property? In this comprehensive but relentless book, Robert Levine (an ex-editor of US music business bible Billboard) wants to make us realise that the internet's facilitation of "free culture" - or a world of piracy to some - has to come to an end. His case is that technology companies have built their businesses - whether web-based and advertiser-driven like Google, or integrated device companies like Apple - on the basis of unpriced (or underpriced) content, made possible by the under-controlled web.

Levine has made an very authoritative attempt to substantiate the content-creators' fightback. But his nostalgia for the good old days of the music business also reveals some rather grisly commercial assumptions. For example, one of his problems with iTunes, even though it's a monetised service, is that it "unbundles" the album. The consumer is able to spend less money, picking off favourite tracks - rather than, as before, having to spend more money on a complete magnum opus.

Yet Levine has no appreciation for how this unbundling allows listeners to create their own stimulating playlists, refining their musical enthusiasms. Would this ultimately result in more spending per consumer?

Levine cites studies that say no, against others that say yes - but he also admits there is a general failure of objective market research. Yet it's indicative of the pecuniary, bottom-line tone of this book that even Apple's brilliant and mostly successful effort to commercialise the infinitely copyable is worth his sustained grouch.

What would a "functioning market" for digital culture look like to Levine? A balance of stick and carrot, entrepreneurship and regulation, which he calls "blanket" or "collective licensing". The carrots are well-designed content "services": the current exemplar is the music-streaming service Spotify. We receive a bountiful - but licensed - downpour of music, and Levine thinks it could be extended to other media like TV and journalism, to our screens and headphones. It would "feel like free"; it wouldn't be free, however, because our payment would be subsumed into the rental fees we pay for our information devices. Levine predicts that we would have to accept some price rises in these rents.

The "stick" part is that licenses have to be enforced. Performing Rights Society inspectors already go round radio stations, restaurants and cafes, making sure that dues are paid for playing music. So a software equivalent would regularly monitor the networks - ensuring that some agreed proportion of revenues is returned to the rights-holders.

Levine hopes we can redefine copyright, "the right to copy" (an unenforceable absurdity after ten years of the web), as copyrisk. Like traditional actuaries, gathering together pools of money to insure against the inevitable risk of shipwreck or car accident, the content business needs to find a way to collectively compensate authors and creators for the healthy turbulence and promiscuity of internet usage.

You almost feel sorry for Levine, in all his mercantile passion, when he discovers where these "collective licensing" agreements are already proving most successful: in Northern Europe, from Ireland to Germany, Denmark to Finland. That is, in national cultures where "they socialize any number of expenses that others would view as private. And as anyone involved in health care can tell you", he continues sorrowfully, "what works smoothly in Scandinavia can start fights in the US". His call for a "statutory approach" in his own country seems rather forlorn.

Ian Hargreaves's constructive recent Digital Economy report in the UK would seem to chime with this European style. He suggested a one-stop Digital Rights Exchange, which would help make intellectual property more trackable - and thus licensable - across the expanding wilds of bandwidth. Away from the heavy-metal clangour of "thieves" and "property-owners", it's the filigree of patient, intelligent policy - forged through a boring old stakeholder-driven commitment to a well-regulated mixed economy - that will bring stability to these debates. Which efforts, to his credit, Levine fully endorses.

Incidentally, Hargreaves's report makes an astute and charming proposal. We should recognise the rights of parodists and satirists to recombine digital material, without Matrix-like IP lawyers swooping down to exterminate them. It looks like, at least in this jurisdiction, that Cookie Monster Tom will continue to flap his gums freely.

Pat Kane's forthcoming book is 'Radical Animal' (www.radicalanimal.net)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition