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  • Published: 2 May 2016
  • ISBN: 9780099590071
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $28.00

How Music Got Free

What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?

One accidental mastermind, one king-pin, two geniuses, and what happens when an entire generation commits the same crime.

What links Taylor Swift to a factory worker? Kanye West to a German engineer? Beyoncé to a boardroom mogul? They’ve all changed the face of the music business, in the most unexpected ways.How Music Got Free is the incredible true story of how online piracy and the MP3 revolutionised the way our world works, one track at a time. ‘This brilliant book tells you exactly how the perfect storm that forever changed the way we consume music took shape. Like many great works of investigative journalism it makes it clear that this is one of those stories you think you know. Until you realise you don’t’ John Niven, The Spectator

‘Reads like an underworld crime story… concise and very funny… The most remarkable thing about Witt’s book is that virtually none of the names is familiar… Witt finds unlikely heroes in unlikely places’ New Statesman

  • Published: 2 May 2016
  • ISBN: 9780099590071
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $28.00

About the author

Stephen Witt

A member of what he calls the ‘pirate generation’, Stephen Witt has been bootlegging music since the mid-1990s. While amassing an archive of hundreds of thousands of pirated mp3s, he became obsessed with the subject of digital piracy, and eventually changed careers to write this thrilling investigative history.

He was born in New Hampshire in 1979, raised in the Midwest and graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in mathematics. He spent the next six years working for hedge funds in Chicago and New York. Following a spell in East Africa working in economic development, he graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2011.

He lives in Brooklyn, New York. How Music Got Free is his first book.

Praise for How Music Got Free

Enthralling… A terrific, timely, informative book… Witt is an authoritative, enthusiastic, sure-footed guide, and his research and his storytelling are exemplary… How Music Got Free stands comparison to The Social Network

Nick Hornby, Sunday Times

Incredible, possibly canonical. . . . A story that's too bizarre to make up, but needed to be told. . . . Even if you're not a music geek, How Music Got Free is one of the most gripping investigative books of the year.


Like Bond meets 28 Days Later... Witt tells a thrilling tale, with a cast of music biz bigwigs, painstaking German boffins, and pirates and petty thieves. Witt’s writing reminded me of all my favourite modern essayists: Remnick, Franzen and John Jeremiah Sullivan. I loved it

Colin Greenwood, Radiohead

Brilliant... Like many great works of investigative journalism it makes it clear that this is one of those stories you think you know until you realise you don’t

John Niven, The Spectator

A fantastic book and a scintillating achievement

Felix Martin, author of Money: the unauthorised biography

[How Music Got Free] has the clear writing and brisk reportorial acumen of a Michael Lewis book

Dwight Garner, New York Times

[How Music Got Free] has the clear writing and brisk reportorial acumen of a Michael Lewis book

Dwight Garner, New York Times

Reads like an underworld crime story… Engaging even on the tech side of the story… Witt is concise and very funny

Bob Stanley, New Statesman

Closely reported and brilliantly written … highly entertainingExemplary in its clarity… this story is full of surprises as well

Steven Poole, Guardian

This is the definitive history of a media revolution… I was hooked late into the night… There are lots of big lessons here… it is the story of all creative industries, and in the end, the internet itself

Hugo Rifkind, The Times

You need to get hold of Stephen Witt's jaundiced, whip-smart, superbly reported and indispensable How Music Got Free

Washington Post

Fascinating… An engrossing story… surely the year's most important music book







Sunday Times

An accomplished first book… So compelling


Lucid, page-turning, engaging… A cross between a nail-biting true-crime story and the type of blow-by-blow books penned by Bob Woodward… Deeply sourced and dramatic

Scott Timberg, Literary Review

Witt's first book has great strengths — primarily that he is a natural storyteller, with an eye for character and the ability to digest large amounts of technical detail, and turn it into a colourful tale

Financial Times

Scorching investigative history of how the music industry found itself staring catastrophe in the face... Full of colourful characters... Essential reading for anyone who cares about the future of our creative industries

The Bookseller

This is a riveting account of greed, huge characters and the collapse of a kind of empire, and will be the benchmark by which future books are judged

Jamie Atkins, 4 stars, Record Collector

The richest explanation to date about how the arrival of the MP3 upended almost everything about how music is distributed, consumed and stored

Dwight Garner, New York Times

A rare thing… Compulsively readable

Andrew Orlowski, Register

Definitive exploration of the turmoil the music industry has experiences in the last 20 years

Daily Mail

A surprisingly engaging guide

Rachel Farrow, UK Press Syndication


Ed Power, Irish Independent

Hats off to Witt…because the book he’s delivered is sensational: lucid, informative, breathlessly exciting, with the pounding narrative tempo of a first-class thriller

Allan Jones, Uncut

Witt brings the many-layered tale to vibrant life

Andrew Hill, Financial Times

Witt’s sharp prose and pace grips... His narrative hurtles like a thriller toward the “sin cleansing” development of iTunes and the profit shift from recorded to live music. It is – in both senses – a ripping yarn

Helen Brown, Telegraph

One of the most gripping investigative books of the year - my mind reels at who will play Glover in the inevitable movie adaptation

Zach Sokol, Vice UK

An exhaustive and entertaining account of how digital music piracy started, what effect it had on the industry and who was involved

Andrew Williams, Metro

Jaundiced, whip-smart, superbly reported and indispensable

Louis Bayard, Guardian Weekly

Brilliant… Witt's account is every bit as riveting as a thriller… Required reading for anybody interested in how we came to consume music today

John Meagher, Irish Independent

It’s a truly terrific read. Thoughtful, compelling, action-packed (surprisingly), utterly robust and guaranteed to be one of those nonfictions you rip through as if it was a novel by your favourite author



Sonny Bunch, Miami Herald

A terrific tale of music piracy at the dawn of the digital era

Helen Brown, Daily Telegraph

The collapse of the music industry, thanks to the emergence of the internet and illegal downloading, is told here with all the urgency and colour of a thriller

Louis Wise, Sunday Times

Witt tells the captivating and tense story of how the digital music revolution transformed the music industry, and made criminals out of many of us. Read it to learn all about a landmark moment in music and technology that still affects us today.

Isaac Fitzgerald, Buzzfeed

His book is a tour de force, delving into the criminal underworld of hackers and pilferers as well as the complacent corporate boardroom

Lionel Barber, Financial Times

A must-read. It flows like a captivating novel.

Mohamed El Erian, The National

A terrific book… Rich and fascinating.

Waitrose Weekend

Page-­turner about how piracy nearly destroyed the established music industry.

Andrew Hill, Financial Times

A great read.


A great read.



Hugo Rifkind, The Times

Witt skillfully and thoroughly documents this “warez” scene of file sharers… Absolutely enthralling, and occasionally cinematic.

Jon Fine, Strategy + Business

Beautifully told.

William Leith, Evening Standard

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