19/06/15 at 6:46 pm
That’s the title of Stephen Witt’s book, an examination of the origins of music piracy and how it brought the music industry to its knees. Witt, Stabile ’11, began working on the book while enrolled in the Stabile program and the Columbia Journalism School’s book writing seminar.
Launched this week, the book was described by The New York Times as “the richest explanation to date about how the arrival of the MP3 upended almost everything about how music is distributed, consumed and stored.” The Times also commended it for having “the clear writing and brisk reportorial acumen of a Michael Lewis book.”
In most histories of these developments, the users who began swapping MP3s on the internet are presented as ordinary folk: college students on Napster and then pretty much everyone on BitTorrent. This gives the story a democratic feel, with the music-loving people rising up against the venal idiocies of the corporate music world. But, as Stephen Witt shows with a kind of gonzo glee in his closely reported and brilliantly written book, it was not ordinary people who were doing most of the “ripping”. There was in fact an organised criminal conspiracy to steal music.