Sunday, December 18, 2016

Books: Stephen Witt - How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy (Viking, 2015)

This was an interesting history of pirated music in the digital era. Although the music industry was rattled by home taping in the 1980's, that was nothing compared to the seismic changes that would come with the explosion of the internet. The author follows multiple plot lines, starting with the development of the MP3 format by German scientists. Although the format was initially scorned, it slowly gained prominence. He follows the story of Dell Glover, an employee of Universal Music at a cd pressing plant, who smuggled thousands of discs and became legendary for uploading hip hop albums weeks ahead of their release schedule often in the company of the enigmatic pirate leader "Kali." Dissemination of pirated music moved from napster to bittorrent and private groups and it began to be matched by legal services led by Apple with iTunes and the iPod and then eventually to streaming via Spotify and You Tube. Eventually the day of reckoning came for the music pirates. The music industry and the FBI launched a series of lawsuits that attacked the major players on the pirating scene. Glover and a few others faced nominal prison sentences, but even with the adoption of streaming services (which are a study in contradictions in their own right) piracy is still in the whack a mole status, because as one service is shut down, two more will open. What made the book particularly interesting was the human approach the author used. Instead of getting overly bogged down in the technology, he would introduce the reader to the key players: scientists, pirates, industry moguls and law enforcement are all presented as people involved in a large and complex drama. How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy -

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