Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Doctorow: the real cost of free

Cory Doctorow is in fine form again in today's Guardian, responding to a fellow Guardian columnist Helienne Lindvall's claims about him charging 'hefty fees' of up to $25,000 for speaking engagements. For the record Cory points out that he's done nearly 100 public appearances in the past 6 months most for free, 11 of which earned him a fee, the highest individual fee being £300.  The power of the piece comes not from the clinical dissection of unfounded allegations, however, but from the accessible and powerful summary of the state of the intellectual property wars.  Highly recommended reading.
"I don't care if you want to attempt to stop people from copying your work over the internet, or if you plan on building a business around this idea. I mean, it sounds daft to me, but I've been surprised before.
But here's what I do care about. I care if your plan involves using "digital rights management" technologies that prohibit people from opening up and improving their own property; if your plan requires that online services censor their user submissions; if your plan involves disconnecting whole families from the internet because they are accused of infringement; if your plan involves bulk surveillance of the internet to catch infringers, if your plan requires extraordinarily complex legislation to be shoved through parliament without democratic debate; if your plan prohibits me from keeping online videos of my personal life private because you won't be able to catch infringers if you can't spy on every video...
So yeah, if you want to try to control individual copies of your work on the internet, go ahead and try. I think it's a fool's errand, and so does almost every technical expert in the world, but what do we know?
But for so long as this plan involves embedding control, surveillance and censorship into the very fabric of the information society's infrastructure, I'll continue to tour the world, for free, spending every penny I have and every ounce of energy in my body to fight you.
Helienne, I can't fault you for not reading my Guardian columns; after all, I've never read yours. And while I do fault you for not correcting the record, I won't ask the Guardian's reader's editor to intervene or make silly, chiropractor-esque noises about libel. I'm a civil libertarian, and I have integrity, and I believe that the answer to bad speech is more speech, hence this column...
You know who peddles false hope to naive would-be artists? People who go around implying that but for all those internet pirates, there'd be full creative employment for all of us. That the reason artists earn so little is because our audiences can't be trusted, that once we get this pesky internet thing solved, there'll be jam tomorrow for everyone. If you want to damn someone for selling a bill of goods to creative people, go after the DRM vendors with their ridiculous claims about copy-proof files; go after the labels who say that wholesale lawsuits against fans on behalf of artists (where labels get to pocket the winnings) are good business; go after the studios who are suing to make it impossible for anyone to put independent video on the internet without a giant corporate legal budget...
It's been 15 years since the US National Information Infrastructure hearings kicked off the digital copyright wars. And for all the extraordinary power grabbed by the entertainment giants since then, the letters of marque and the power to disconnect and the power to censor and the power to eavesdrop, none of it is paying artists. Those who say that they can control copies are wrong, and they will not profit by their strategy. They should be entitled to ruin their own lives, businesses and careers, but not if they're going to take down the rest of society in the process."

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