‘How Music Got Free’ Is a Must-Read on the Rise of Piracy: Book Review

Stephen Witt
How Music Got Free
Courtesy of Viking

The swashbuckling image of a pirate has a different meaning in the music biz, where it generally involves computer nerds and music geeks. So it's a credit to first-time author Stephen Witt that How Music Got Free makes such a suspenseful, entertaining read out of forbiddingly dense source material. The book switches among three characters: Karlheinz Brandenburg, a key player in the invention of the MP3; Doug Morris, then-head of Universal Music; and Dell Glover, an employee at a North Carolina CD plant who becomes the most prolific pirate in music history, leaking more than 2,000 albums by stashing them behind an oversized belt buckle.

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Witt's occasionally overheated storytelling sometimes leads him onto unsteady ground, mostly when describing Morris' power moves in terms so fawning they would probably even embarrass the man himself. But that's the only major misstep: This is essential reading for all students of the music business. 

This story originally appeared in the July 4 issue of Billboard.