Conversation with Chris Ruen (Podcast)

From OR Books.

Freeloading: How Our Insatiable Appetite for Free Content Starves Creativity

In his new book, author Chris Ruen provides a glimpse into his personal transition from consumer of free media to advocate for artists’ rights and a more rational conversation about copyright in the digital age.  Ruen shares his own thoughts about common justifications for online piracy, about the mechanics behind the anti-SOPA protest, and about his own proposals for a renewed dialogue about copyright reform and enforcement.  While certain professionals on either side of the debate may take issue with Ruen’s specific, legal proposals, I believe the general reader with even a passing interest in the cultural aspects of what Ruen calls “freeloading,” can learn a great deal from this book.  In particular, the middle third of the work is comprised of interviews with musicians and producers from the independent punk scene — guys who are about as anti-establishment as it gets — and their no-nonsense views on the rationales supporting online piracy are well worth the attention of anyone who thinks he’s stickin’ to The Man by downloading torrents.

I spoke to Chris last week via Skype and found our conversation very engaging. In fact, I’m providing the discussion almost unedited, without introduction, and in two parts.  I hope you find these podcasts interesting and that you’ll let me know what you think.

Chris Ruen Part IChris Ruen Podcast PART I

Chris Ruen Part IIChris Ruen Podcast PART II

For more information about Chris or to buy a copy of Freelaoding:  How Our Insatiable Appetite for Free Content Starves Creativity, visit

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • Interesting interview. I really like how he gets the idea that demonizing the opponents of copyright or disregarding their concerns will get the content industry nowhere. But I don’t like his thing about how “professionals” are somehow more trustworthy. At this point, I get can barely get through watching CNN or Fox News without being disgusted by the insane amount of physiological manipulation they employ (down to the music, yes, music, they play when they give the news). In mass media, there is absolutely no real incentive to be fair and balanced, and every incentive to not be. I would rather have a unruly “ignorant” mob give me the news than some rich neoconservative billionaire’s media empire. The death of “professional journalism” (and by all means, had nothing to do with piracy) is one of the best things the Internet has given the world. Keep it dead.

  • Also it would be interesting to see his ideas for copyright enforcement. He mentioned that he was interested in going into that. But as usual, the copyright enforcement question goes unanswered. Why is that? It’s incredibly frustrating. That’s where the meat of the issue is and yet even the biggest proponents of copyright are entirely vague about it.

    • Chris and I both alluded to the fact that something akin to SOPA is actually going in the right direction. That bill was quite specific, and almost nothing that was said in its opposition was accurate. So, I don’t think anyone’s being too vague.

      • SOPA failed hard, as in, it was taken out, shot, hacked up into pieces, and pissed on. Nobody, even the most biggest proponents of copyright in Congress want to go anywhere near the “that SOPA thing” anymore. And this was a bill that was basically fast tracked with nearly complete bipartisan support before the Internet community got involved with defeating it.

        And it’s questionable if it would even help, it’s well documented that there was large holes in the proposals that will allow people to get to their favourite filesharing sites without any real difficulty, and that’s with using the most trivial censorship circumvention techniques out there.

        The problem with SOPA as a anti-piracy measure is it didn’t nearly go far enough. The Internet post-SOPA would have still been a network where I can share arbitrary data with anyone else and nobody could realistically stop me. You really need some kind of super SOPA, something that really changes the character of the Internet. Good luck with that.

      • Sorry, Man. Just plain none of that is true, but I’ve done too many hours on SOPA to get into beyond that. I suggest reading Chris’s book for some details on how that “organic protest” came about.

  • Term limits have to do with artist incentive. Think about what the artist is giving up to pursue a life of art.
    The artist could be spending his time building a business to hand down to his children, or climbing the career ladder with guaranteed paychecks and benefits and all that entails…
    There is a VERY real and very extreme risk to health and well being and quality of life that the artist gives up just for the chance of making something useful. If one has nothing at the end of a lifetime of work to show for that… that’s a very big piece of incentive gone. If i have nothing for my children to inherit, WTF am i doing this for?

    On the list of 100 things that needs to be fixed in terms of copyright today, term limits -IMO- are about 99 on that list…

    How about this: IF there is actual meaningful action to enforce my copyrights, then we can discuss term limits… until then, it makes zero sense for me, as a creator, to engage in that sort of discussion.

    • I believe there are a lot of reasons changing term limits is a complicated issue, and you mention some good ones. Chris is taking a broad view as a non-legal expert and suggesting an approach to political compromise. He’s also not the only creator to see the length of limits as a form of corporate welfare when rights are held by large conglomerates. I agree, however, that incentive for the original author is the whole purpose of copyright and personally have a hard time knowing why there should be any limit on rights held by heirs, but that’s personal opinion. As I said in the discussion, I don’t take a specific position on where limits ought to be, but I recognize that rolling them back is the agenda of some powerful interests who have momentum. Their position doesn’t have to make sense to make headway. Thanks for commenting.

    • I have to chip in here and say that there are very good reasons why we should not allow ourselves to get drawn into discussions on term limits. The reason is best described by analogy: “we’ll stop beating you up as long as you ride at the back of the bus and don’t come into our restaurants”.

      We have to remember that the anti-copyright lobby is coming in from a position of force: we wouldn’t be having this discussion if they weren’t flouting the law in the first place. To say that we must make concessions in order to regain some of the legal protections we enjoyed previously to everyone’s benefit (it would be incredibly hard to make a case that copyright hasn’t been a net benefit to society after a decade of exploring the alternative) takes a lot more cheek than I can muster. For us to agree to be having this conversation is just plain stupid.

      There’s a corollary to this: at least part of the damage to the wider creative industries has been wrought not by the infringers, but by manifestly bad – though very much legal – business models that we’ve been pressured into endorsing. Spotify – and “music like water” is my pet peeve and has been for years – but even iTunes isn’t a particularly good model. Their pricing scheme is out of whack and I’m just itching to try to quantify how much music industry decline can be attributed to them – if I can get my hands on the data.

      Quite frankly, there’s no fundamentally good reason why there should be any limits on copyright length at all – not unless similar limits are placed on other forms of property. In all, we could make just as compelling a case for real estate passing into the public domain – perhaps more so if we consider that land is limited and that at the outset it may be acquired solely by right of conquest (in other words beating other people to it and/or beating them off). Copyright is one of the few forms of property (if not completely unique in this respect) that are acquired with no detriment to anyone else. Nobody else could have created your work, to say nothing of doing so.

      If there is an area that is worth discussing it is what Robert Levine calls the breadth of copyright – what exactly is copyrightable and how far do the author’s exclusive rights stretch. However, I believe that this is a relatively non-contentious issue for the simple reason that everyone knows where the valuable works are and wants to get a piece of that action as soon as possible.

      • Faza, sorry for being slow to respond to this comment. As I’ve said in a few places, I personally don’t propose where copyright terms ought to be, although I do tend to be in your camp more often than not. I understand Chris’s instinct to call for compromise, but like you, I don’t believe that reversing terms to life+50 or whatever would actually satisfy the motivations behind many of the interests seeking “reform.” I get why 100-year terms become a kind of corporate welfare for large rights holders, but it’s unclear to me why that really matters or how it contrasts and compares with the universe of family-owned rights. People point to Disney a lot, and I know that company has done some unpopular and even mean-spirited things, but there is also the question as to why an icon like Mickey Mouse should not belong to that company forever? Who cares in any context other than a symbolic one? If we want to look at what does and does not work about big movie studios, there’s plenty we could talk about; but I fail to see how amending copyright terms is a factor. I also agree with your sentiment that negotiating with someone holding a gun to your head is not a negotiation.

        The “music like water” problem is indeed an interesting challenge. My understanding is that iTunes’s monopoly is partly the result of DRM, and that the industry shot itself in the foot a bit there. I’m pretty sure Levine address this in his book. And we’re seeing a similar issue in this lawsuit between publishers and Amazon. There doesn’t appear to be any way to create a DRM paradigm that doesn’t foster a monopoly distributor, and there may be neither a technological nor legal solution to this problem, but there is no denying the reality that revenues in that industry dropped by half over the last decade or so. There’s also no question Spotify is cool. I just recently started using it and have already discovered new music, BUT if this is how we’re going to listen to music now, then the rates Spotify pays to artists have to go up, not down. At the same time — and this is where Chris and I are in dead synch — the listening public has to decide to stop treating media like water. And that’s not to suggest that water is a cheap commodity anymore.

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    free What ?? Stealing is STEALING,..remember before Technology ?… before Making Copies?.. Sharing is not to 20,000 People. Joseph Nicoletti Consulting-Promotion office 949-715-5382

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