Who to follow: Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger -- the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of young adult novels like PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London and is pictured here in his office.Twitter: @doctorow

His personal website: Craphound

Boing Boing: the award-winning zine, blog and directory of wonderful things

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (sidenote: the EFF just published their annual “Who Has Your Back” report, which charts tech companies’ commitment to the next frontier of user privacy. WordPress was one of the few companies who excelled at protecting your personal data.)

Cory Doctorow is a name I’ve been hearing for quite some time, but I’ll admit I never really looked into him much because.. he seemed a little out there. But today I was looking for a new book in my own library and stumbled across Information Doesn’t Want to be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, a book he wrote in 2014. It seems timely and relevant and I started reading and found myself more engaged than I would’ve expected given the topic, so I’ve done a little bit of exploration to see what he’s really all about. And it seems that he’s all about a lot of things! Now, I’m not going to be able to finish the book before I finish this collection, so I’m going to use Doctorow’s interview about the book for Salon.

To pick and choose from his self-supplied biography, he is: a Canadian living in London, a science fiction author, a journalist, a blogger, professor, and activist. He’s written young adult novels as well as adult novels. He’s a co-editor of Boing Boing, the online zine/blog, and he co-founded the UK Open Rights Group as well as the open source peer-to-peer software company OpenCola. He also is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties.”

In this book, he advocates for a middle road between the two extremes often associated with copyright (in the arts/music realm) of everything being ‘free’ (stolen) or wanting heavy-handed copyright laws to lock up all those free folk (yes, GOT reference). I’m about 1/3 through the book right now and it is very specific to music and art and he talks about how those industries have sort of more or less figured out the game regarding removing DRM rights and allowing for open sharing in some instances, etc. He’s made a couple of snide remarks about how the ebook industry has yet to figure this out, which I completely agree with. His book’s a year old and I’m hard-pressed to see much change in this. The fact that people are still even buying Kindles boggles my mind. Amazon is the uber-controlling distributor! And talk about information restrictions – your favorite author only publishes on the Kindle platform and you have a Nook? Welp, you’re screwed. I’ll admit that he had a very strange outlook: he seems optimistic about artists and musicians being able to create and share their works and how the Internet can enable their success, yet he couldn’t be more pessimistic about what’s going on to try and control the Internet to prevent that success through copyright, etc. Regarding the issues of DRM and publishers within the ebook world, Doctorow has this to say:

“Get over yourself. Most people are not artists or in the arts industry and the major problems of the world are not the fortunes of people who, after all, have no reasonable expectation of an income anyway in any kind of rational economic analysis. The real problem is that we’re infecting the nervous system of the 21st century with the long-lived pathogens that can be used to attack us in every single way from asshole to appetite in the name of helping artists. And we’re not even helping artists!”

So how is Doctorow promoting his own beliefs? Aside from working with the EFF to defend freedoms in the Internet age, he practices what he preaches by making his books available for download in a variety of forms under the Creative Commons license so that we, his audience, can share and remix his work. He expands on his logic for this here.

Overall, I’m liking the book so far. It’s relevant, his prose is interesting/intelligent/yet down to earth, and he has so many interesting little anecdotes tucked in to just further open my eyes to what’s been going on in the world. He introduces major players, like the hacker Muslix64 who figured out how to hack the HD-DVD player to bypass DRM restrictions, which I probably never would’ve heard about otherwise. It’s also, and this is quite shallow of me, a pretty book. It’s aesthetically appealing and interesting and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand the story behind why we get so frustrated we can’t share ebooks or watch foreign-made movies.

One thought on “Who to follow: Cory Doctorow

  1. I met Cory Doctorow 7 or 8 years ago. I was at a conference on “emerging technology” and he was a featured speaker. He appeared, as you say, a little “out there.” And he had a most off-putting group of followers/admirers/groupies/sycophants. But once I got past that, he’s a shockingly intelligent guy and have been aware of his work ever since. He’s a pretty good speculative fiction author, but its his work (and putting his money, literally and metaphorically, where his mouth is) on intellectual property, privacy and freedom that I find most interesting.

    And BoingBoing is essential reading (or at least) skimming, providing no end of interesting links for me to procrastinate with.

    I haven’t read Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, but now I think I should move it up on my list too. You are keeping me busy here!

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