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In Response to “The Freeloaders”

Megan McArdle’s piece in The Atlantic, “The Freeloaders” would be far more engaging if it weren’t chock-a-block with misinformation and specious logic. Pretty much every one of her points can be disassembled with most casual counter-argument. Whether this reflects an arrogance that her word is bond or intellectual laziness, I’m not sure.

I should note that I detest blog posts that devolve into rants. They’re the drunk old uncle at Thanksgiving: abrasive, awkward, and  annoying. So I hope my criticisms here engender more thoughtful discussion, not less. I’m also fully aware of the humor (and the performative nature) of responding to an article like “The Freeloaders” via blog.

First, McArdle betrays a willful ignorance of history. Her timeline for the music industry is couched in vague terms without recognizable milestones: “Until recordings came along, songs, not singers, were Big Business.” Cory Doctorow’s Content is illuminating here. He reminds us of the rise of the player piano, when band leaders like John Philips Sousa told Congress, “These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country.” What Sousa meant was it would destroy his concert fees. Congress invented song licenses. This same cycle repeated itself with radio. Somehow the world didn’t end.

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