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That copyright thing

We’ve discussed previously the state of music business and where it’s going. Music is not alone in this state of transition. Every form of art is.

In preface to his recent novel Little Brother, Cory Doctorow writes:

If I could loan out my physical books without giving up possession of them, I would. The fact that I can do so with digital files is not a bug, it’s a feature, and a damned fine one. It’s embarrassing to see all these writers and musicians and artists bemoaning the fact that art just got this wicked new feature: the ability to be shared without losing access to it in the first place. It’s like watching restaurant owners crying down their shirts about the new free lunch machine that’s feeding the world’s starving people because it’ll force them to reconsider their business-models. Yes, that’s gonna be tricky, but let’s not lose sight of the main attraction: free lunches!

Free lunches, yoohoow! Who doesn’t like free free lunches? (Yes, I know there’s no such thing…)

But what about all these people who create the movies, musicians who write and perform the music, writers who write the books, you ask? How are they going to make a living?

Well, Cory Doctorow is one of those folks who puts his money where his mouth is. He is an accomplished writer himself. You can probably find his books at your local bookstore (look in the sci-fi section). He also puts all his books online under a Creative Commons license that allows unlimited copying, sharing and derivative work for non-commercial purposes. So you can download them from his website instead of buying in the dead tree form, if you prefer so.

Here’s his rationale:

Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction. The commercial question is the one that comes up most often: how can you give away free ebooks and still make money?

For me — for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity (thanks to Tim O’Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy. Mega-hit best-sellers in science fiction sell half a million copies — in a world where 175,000 attend the San Diego Comic Con alone, you’ve got to figure that most of the people who “like science fiction” (and related geeky stuff like comics, games, Linux, and so on) just don’t really buy books. I’m more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who’s in the tent bought a ticket to be there.

By the way, giving away books for free didn’t prevent Little Brother from getting on the New York Times’ best selling list.

How’s the novel itself? In one phrase: it’s 1984 in the 21st century. It’s not without it’s flaws — I think it’s too didactic in places and I don’t always agree with the author’s politics. And the happy end is rather deus ex machina-ish.

But after all it’s intended for teenagers and it does raise some very important questions:

The 17 year olds I know understand to a nicety just how dangerous a computer can be. The authoritarian nightmare of the 1960s has come home for them. The seductive little boxes on their desks and in their pockets watch their every move, corral them in, systematically depriving them of those new freedoms I had enjoyed and made such good use of in my young adulthood.

What’s more, kids are clearly being used as guinea-pigs for a new kind of technological state that all of us are on our way to, a world where taking a picture is either piracy (in a movie theater or museum or even a Starbucks), or terrorism (in a public place), but where we could be photographed, tracked and logged hundreds of times a day by every tin-pot dictator, cop, bureaucrat and shop-keeper. A world where any measure, including torture, could be justified just by waving your hands and shouting “Terrorism! 9/11! Terrorism!” until all dissent fell silent.

We don’t have to go down that road.

If you think he’s a tinfoil hat wearing paranoid guy, I can assure you he’s not. (Nick carefully adjusts his own tinfoil hat). All the technology he describes in the book is either already being used or a mere few years away. It’s just a matter of time before the events described in the book become technically possible. The plot is set in 2010, to give you an idea.

If you know a teenager with a gypsy heart and are scratching your head for a present, you can do a lot worse than giving this book. And some adults should read it too. Especially those, who are enchanted with the seductive little boxes. Or simply don’t understand the consequences of using them.

You can get the book for free or buy it.

This concludes my todays soapbox rant. Be free. Be paranoid. Don’t trust anybody over 25. Even Svante. 😉



14 Comments to “That copyright thing”:

  1. 1
    T says:

    It is actually very scary how young people have no idea how they are being manipulated and tracked, and how what they say on the internet can follow them.

    Employers now check MySpace pages to see what their potential employee looks like off the clock, and how he or she behaves. What is scary is that in a “free” society, a person’s expressed political beliefs can be used against him or her.

    As a sophomore, I was required to read 1984. This is no longer the case, and most of the young people I work with might be familiar with the theme but not the particulars. The two-way TV may be a reality. Is your QuickCam watching you?

    I’ve had students who didn’t know who the Beatles were, much less understand that their cell phone is being tracked “to monitor traffic conditions”.

    I hear they’re trying to make us all the same
    It’s mind control by any other name
    Who’s gonna pay the price
    For this foolish paradise
    Oh…Momma don’t take that train…

    Oops…is that copyright infringement?

    Interestingly, DP does not allow one to use their music on a MySpace page. They’ll remove it in a few days.
    It seems it would be good, free advertisement for their music. Blackmore’s Night, however, will allow it. One would think it would be the other way around.

    And don’t make fun of the tin foil hat. It’s the only way to keep aliens from reading your thoughts. Likewise, it also hides your neural waves and thought patterns. 😉

  2. 2
    stefan says:

    Well said T!! Now…Where did I put that tin foil hat???

  3. 3
    Mike Eriksson says:

    We live in strange times. Any survey could get different answers out of any of us just by answering questions in a way that would get the answers that they prefere…

    Q1: Should music and movies be free to download?
    A: Ehr, yes, that would be nice.

    Q1b: Should people that work in the film and music business have a right to earn an income on their work?
    A: Ehr, yes, I suppose so.

    Q2: Should the intelligence service be able to track your habits?
    A: Absolutely not, I want my freedom.

    Q2b: Do you want the intilligence service to have a chance to track down terrorists that is a threat to our national security?
    A: Yes, it would be nice if they could find would be bombers before they do any harm.

    Personally, I still buy my music and my DVD´s and I do not like all this downloading. If somebody, like this author, wants to give his stuff away for free, good. The problem arises when somebody wants his or hers work protected and it can´t be because the laws have not catched up with new technology.

    Lawmaking takes time, especially when it crosses national borders. New technologies comes in so fast it overwhelms the system.

    The current situation is not good for people in the entertainment industry. And this idiotic “it´s my right to get this stuff for free” bullshit is just that. Bullshit.

    Mike

  4. 4
    T says:

    Good points, Mike. It is complicated indeed.

    Q1: The person making the work available to download should be liable…NOT the person downloading it. You stop it at the source, and it’s easier to prosecute that way.

    Q2: Absolutely not. Tracking cookies and spyware should be prohibited by law unless a website clearly indicates that its use will provide cookies or some kind of tracking program (other than a counter to provide advertisers with data on how popular a site is).

    Q2B: If a person’s pattern of behavior is such that attention is called to someone or it fits a profile, I would say that constitutes “probable cause” for a security agency to look into it.

    The same laws that apply to mail could apply to the internet. For example, you can’t slander someone on TV or in print–it follows that one is not allowed to do that on the internet. If it is prohibited to send harassing letters or make harassing phone calls, the same should apply to email. If unsolicited pornography cannot be sent to a mailbox, then it should not be allowed to be sent electronically.

  5. 5
    nsoveiko says:

    Mike:

    answering “yes” to both Q1 and Q1b is not mutually exclusive. one can make the stuff available for free and make a living at the same time.

    more than that, “free” in english has two meanings — free as in free beer and free as in free speech. what i’m saying that it doesn’t have to be free as in beer, but once i’ve paid for the music/film/book i should be able to watch/listen to/read it the way i want, when i want.

    > The problem arises when somebody wants his or hers work protected and it can´t be because the laws have not catched up with new technology

    every country already has laws in the book that protect copyright. every music/film/book creator already has a right to forbid unauthorised copying of his works.

    my point is that in this day and age it looks to me as incredibly shortsighted.

  6. 6
    T says:

    nsoveiko said: “once i’ve paid for the music/film/book i should be able to watch/listen to/read it the way i want, when i want.”

    I absolutely agree.

    And if I want to copy it for use in the car or at work, I should be able to do that–short of hiring out the copy or selling it.

    What I am afraid of is the entertainment industry electronically restricting the use of a work and forcing the consumer to pay a small fee each time the work is viewed or heard.

    I remember when TV used to be free (gratis). I remember when radio was free, too. I see a trend.

  7. 7
    stefan says:

    If it hadn´t been for the internet, I would never had discovered so many new acts(The Answer,Joe Bonamassa,Airbourne etc)! Not to mention the archeology work tracking down old acts,that one can´t find elsewhere!

    I admit to downloading illegally….but if I like what I hear, I usally purchase the CD in 95% of the case! By the way….is it illegal if I own the vinyl of a number of artists since way back, and then download it and burn it on CD??? I mean, I´ve already payed for it once about 25 years ago…..It´s just a question of convinience to have the fucker on CD!!?? Artists like Zep,Stones,Eagles or whoever made it big in the seventies,have enough money!It´s an entire matter for new acts….If I like èm,I gladly cough up!

  8. 8
    T says:

    What about works that are out of print but available online (file sharing, etc.)? What about works that do not officially exist (live Satriani-era Purple recordings)?

    Your point about buying the CD in “95% of the case” is a good one. Sometimes, it’s good publicity to allow a sample, or to allow works on YouTube or MySpace. In their greed, the music industry sometimes misses that point.

    And now Viacom is suing YouTube over it. Viacom wants to know WHO has been looking at WHICH videos and HOW MANY TIMES.

    Here we go…

  9. 9
    Mike Eriksson says:

    I love MySpace, I have found lots of good bands and artists through that. They put up samples and you hear it and you decide if you like it or not.

    When people download entire records and artists don´t get a dime, there´s something wrong with that. I can see why people like it, but it is questionable.

    In the old days you taped your pals record, fair enough. But when some guy puts up a record for thousands and thousands to “tape” (download), it´s not exactly as innocent is it?

    Case in point, Kiss has said that they will never record a new album again. I don´t want to hear DP say that any time soon.

    As for peoples bank accounts, theft from a rich person is still theft. I think people overestimate how rich some of these guys are as well. A lot of artists were “royally screwed” by the record companies in the earlier days.

    Ian Gillan was broke in the early 80´s you know, just a few years after the heyday of DP. He has worked hard for whatever fortune he has amassed, there´s no denying that.

    Mike

  10. 10
    stefan says:

    Let´s hope we´ll never see another Kiss album again!They haven´t done anything decent since “Destroyer” anyway! Gene Simmons is the greediest bastard alive, and would probably sell his mother to the highest bidder!

    That said,I went to their gig in Copenhagen june 3rd and they sucked!! Sure,the show was great with thunder,lightning,fireworks and the usual Americana,but musically…..RETIRE NOW!Old men in spandex,wigs and hipreplacements….hilarious!They´ve had their glorious days, but they are now gone and will never come back again!

  11. 11
    nsoveiko says:

    T said:

    > What I am afraid of is the entertainment industry electronically restricting the use of a work and forcing the consumer to pay a small fee each time the work is viewed or heard.

    exactly my point. all forms of “digital locks” have only one goal in mind — to make us pay again and again for the same music/film/book we have already paid for. they can not prevent commercial piracy because all these locks can be broken and people who make illegal copies for profit are not going to scared by them.

    Mike said:

    > As for peoples bank accounts, theft from a rich person is still theft.

    absolutely. except we’re not talking about theft here. theft is when someone takes something from you without your consent and you don’t have that something any more.

    making a copy is not the same thing as taking away. otherwise there would be no need for separate copyright law as it would be covered by regular criminal law dealing with theft.

  12. 12
    David Sanderson says:

    Myspace is great, I have discovered a lot of good music on there, had a cyber stalker and recieved numerous scam E mails, if anyone wants to check up on me for some obscure reason, they wouldn’t find much out of any interest, I really am that boring, as for 1984, most of that is happening now, Orwell predicted that in the 1940’s! I do worry about a surveillance society, I live next to a pub and have a CCTV camera directly opposite my window, encounter PCSO’s and Community wardens every day and get so many junk E mails and text messages even my shopping habits seem to be open knowledge.

  13. 13
    kwabena agyemang says:

    DEPP PURPLE GOOD THE HIGHWAY STAR IN THE ROCK BAND BUS JUMP INTO CAR , TURCK AND ROCK BAND BUS.ALL THE EVERYBODY GAYS. THE END AND HAPPY ROCK TOO YOU ME.

  14. 14
    Mr. Briggs says:

    @T: A tin foil hat is useless against penetration. You need something like a lead helmet in order to keep them from reading your thoughts.

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