Why the copyright wars matter: a reply to Helienne Lindvall

In this week's Guardian column, "The real cost of free," I reply to last week's broadside by my fellow Guardian columnist Helienne Lindvall, who accused me of charging enormous fees to encourage creators to give their works away. After correcting the record on fees (most of my talks are free, a small number are paid for, and a tiny fraction of those are paid for at large amounts), I go to the meat of the issue: what is it that I tell people when they ask me to speak at their events?
But 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.

And this is the plan that the entertainment industries have pursued to in their doomed attempt to prevent copying. The US record industry has sued 40,000 people. The BBC has received Ofcom's approval to use our mandatory licence fees to lock up its broadcasts with DRM so that we can't tinker with or improve on our own TVs and recorders (and lest you think that this is no big deal, keep in mind that the entire web was created by amateurs tinkering with systems around them). What's more Apple, Audible, Sony and others have stitched up several digital distribution channels with mandatory DRM requirements, so copyright holders don't get to choose to make their works available on equitable terms.

In France, the HADOPI "three strikes" rule just went into effect; they're sending out 10,000 legal threats a week now, and have promised 150,000 a week in short order. After three unsubstantiated accusations of infringement, your whole family is disconnected from the Internet -from work, education, civic engagement, distant relatives, health information, community. And of course, we'll have the same regime here shortly, thanks to the Digital Economy Act, passed in a three-whip washup in the last days of parliament without any substantive debate, despite the thousands and thousands of Britons who asked their legislators to at least discuss this extraordinarily technical legislation before passing it into law.

The real cost of free


  1. Lindvall’s article is idiotic at best, and entirely misses the point of the free digital art business model. The fact that you get a high speaker fee should be seen as a success of the model, not an ironic failure. Lindvall is confusing the “copies of an artist’s work” (which are supposed to be free) with “an artist’s actual time” (which is worth money).

    Artists give away work as an advertisement. “Here’s a bunch of my stuff. Check it out. If you like it, pay me for something else I do/sell.” Musicians post free mp3s; people hear them and become fans; those fans go to shows where they buy tickets and t-shirts and the musician gets paid. Or: Cory gives away his books online; people read them and become loyal readers; since he has loyal readers, he is hired to write articles for the Guardian or go speak at an event.

    This seems pretty simple. No one ever said: “Everything you do should be free forever. Never charge money for anything.” That’s absurd.

  2. Hasn’t everyone finally come to the realization that there is no longer any such thing as a representative government?

    No one in elected office gives a brass farthing what you think. They all have their own agendas and they don’t include paying attention to you voters and citizenry of their respective nations.

    Perhaps it’s time to put them all down and start fresh…

    Just sayin….

  3. Cory – you are right of course, but I am not sure why you even spent the time replying to an article which was just fatuous and seemed to be motivated by annoyance that people didn’t want to speak at her event.

  4. Well, Cory, you do demand “up to $15,000”, much like Sunde demands “up to £5,000”.

    However, much like that joke about the lost balloonist, these statements are technically and factually correct but totally useless.

    Your response has provided the third really, really good meme I’ve come across this month.

    First meme: Bruce Schneier’s idea of “data as the pollution problem of the information society”; equivalent to the 20th century’s’ problem with pollution as a by product of the industrial age.

    Second: yours, DRM as a letter of marque.

    Second meme: Tim O’Reilly’s idea of Government As a Platform.

    Yours: DRM and their laws as Letters of Marque. Touché!

    Lastly, regarding the “full disclosure MRI image”. Me, I would have made the black box in the middle longer, y’know, à la Borat.

    Or did your wife want to discourage groupies?

  5. Surely if they French are sending out 150,000 warnings a week it won’t be long till nobody in France uses the internet?

  6. Okay, the problems with DRM are well understood, but what is a creator supposed to do? You say that it’s okay for creators to use copyright. Fine. But let’s say that someone just violates the copyright. What are we supposed to do? You don’t seem to like suing. I’m sure you’re against violence. And trying to build a more secure digital lock box just infuriates you. In essence, you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. YOu’re all for copyright, you’re just against any penalties for the people who violate it. That’s convenient.

    1. bobster, those non-payers, the copiers, are bad actors in the economy — but it’s not a scarcity economy. As long as enough good actors exist, the economy works.

      Also, bad actors aren’t bad to the bone. Get a fan, you’ve got a repeat customer and advertising platform. Many bad actors are good too – taking lots of stuff free, and paying for plenty more.

    2. Bobster, I think what Cory is saying is that he’s against the brutish techniques currently employed by big content to protect their assets. The fact is file sharing is not going away unless we fundamentally alter (i.e break) the internet in its current form – and the MPAA, RIAA etc seem to think that if they throw enough lawsuits at the problem they can somehow take us back in time, back to when their business models were relevant. Face it, being a publisher has lost a lot of value in the age of the internet – authors/bands/artists don’t need some big company’s money to get recognized anymore. The internet makes worldwide distribution of content available to anyone, and big content must learn to live with this new reality. They should focus on innovation, and on finding new revenue streams. They are only going to put themselves out of business, financially ruin families guilty of no more than what amounts to recording music off the radio, and create a legal climate in which technological innovation (like the modding of hardware, or cracking of proprietary software), remixing, and the preservation of culture in archives are forbidden. What they are doing is harming humanity, and they’re doing it in a vain attempt to save a doomed business model. If they need to protect their rights, they should stop taking down YouTube clips of little girls dancing to music they own and start going after commercial pirates, who actually might harm sales, since they’re taking money for a product that might legitimately go to a creator.

      1. Well, I’m against brutish techniques too. But really is a lawsuit that brutish? If I steal a car, the cops stick me in jail. In some states, there are people in jail for life because they violated the three strikes law. In the scale of things that the legal system does to people, the RIAA’s lawsuits are pretty easy. I know it might not seem that way to someone asked to settle for several thousand dollars, but it is.

        But okay, I agree with you that it’s a bit of a drag to be suing some Mom who posts a video of their kid dancing to some music. Fine. Unfortunately, this kind of creative remix is dwarfed by the amount of bits exchanged by couch potatoes who just want to sit and do nothing but absorb the content. I would guess that 99% of the infringement is done by folks who just want to avoid paying.

        So what kind of penalty would you suggest for a person with a perfectly good job who would rather spend $20/month on beer instead of a subscription to Netflix or Rhapsody?

        1. Are you serious? A lawsuit is not that big a deal? Buddy, $5000.00 (average settlement) is nothing to a cbig company, but it’s everything to a small family that lives paycheque to paycheque. The fact is, they are not preventing or reducing piracy by harming people in this way. They’re just harming people who were guilty of no more than wanting to sample the latest cultural product. I mean, come on, are you seriously saying that it’s fair to punish someone for downloading a song they could hear on the radio for free? Advertising aside, the end result is the same, a person hears a song. The content industry only has their bottom lines at heart, and they want to protect them at the cost of innovation, cultural preservation, and civic freedoms. This is not a fair trade-off! It’s also completely stupid because, as I said, file sharing is never going to stop or go away. They need to live with the new reality. Home recording did not destroy the TV or Movie industry (as Jack Valenti claimed it would) and the internet won’t destroy the content industries either. They just need to change the way they do business. Innovate, don’t litigate! Cory gets this, and is a living example of it. He makes a living as an artist that gives his work away.

          As for your “steal a car” example – that’s a fallacy. When you steal a car, you deprive someone of their car. When you download a song, you don’t deprive anyone of anything. It’s absolutely wrong to say that every download is a lost sale. Lots of people downloading don’t have the money to buy books or albums. What about countries where the latest music is forbidden by law (like Brazil during the dictatorship) or where the local economy doesn’t support the prices demanded by our content industries? Are they wrong to download? Downloads MIGHT deprive someone of a few bucks, they might also create a life-long fan who goes on to buy every album a band has ever made. The fact is people are going to redistribute content… just as we passed stories along before there was written language, we pass TV shows and songs and poems along. It’s in our nature to share the things we love, and it is MASSIVE hubris to think that once a company sells us physical media like a DVD they have ANY RIGHT to tell us what machine to put it in, or what we can do with the bits. Copyright is meant to protect artists from people attempting to profit from their work – it was never meant to slap people with fines for singing “Happy Birthday” or prevent them from backing up their purchases or transferring them to different media.

          All they are going to accomplish with lawsuits and DRM is to make people hate them and put themselves out of business even faster (the RIAA lost money on their suits) and the hilarious part is it won’t change anything. Content is digital, even when the bits are protected there’s always the analog hole, and the internet is the biggest digital copier the world has ever seen. It is also integral to our economy and our daily lives. Copyright is impossible to police online. They need to wake up and start dealing with the market in a new way. They need to take a lesson from creators like Cory, the Penny Arcade guys, Jeph Jacques, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails… who survive and thrive without needing to monetize every eyeball or ear that caresses their content.

          1. Yes, it’s possible to survive and thrive without copyright, but only by becoming a different kind of artist who traffics in something else. A good band must turn themselves into t-shirt vendors. Cory must become a public speaker.

            I’m really curious to see how well Cory’s free digital plan works once Kindle and the IPad become the dominant way that people read books. I’m guessing he’s not going to be able to make much on sales of paper books and it’s going to be a real challenge.

          2. This is all well and good but you didn’t respond to my question: how would you punish the bloke who spends his money on beer at the pub and downloads free music. Not the sampler. Not the mom with the dancing baby, but the cheap lout who thinks that P2P system exists so he can spend more money on beer.

            If there’s no punishment, there’s no reason to have the law. My only point is that people can’t say they’re for copyright but against any kind of punishment. So either say you’re an anarchist who thinks that creators should get nothing or spell out a reasonable punishment to you.

          3. Bob, my answer to your question is that non-commercial infringement should not be punished. I agree that someone SELLING something they pirated should be punished. The fairest way seems to be to fine them the retail value of the infringing media they were found to have with intent to sell. I’m not talking $80,000 per song here, I’m talking along the lines of $0.99 per song.

            You seem to think that the content and distribution industries have some god-given right to profits, even when their revenue streams been made obsolete by new technology. If that’s your opinion then we’re just coming from incompatible points of view which can’t be reconciled. To me, what you’re saying is like arguing we should outlaw washing machines and dryers because they put the washing board and crank wringer people out of business. Copying is happening now, and it’s going to continue happening. It’s only going to get easier and faster. THAT IS THE REALITY. Punishing people won’t change that, so why ruin lives? If they need to make money on tee-shirts now, that’s just how things are. If they don’t like it TOO FUCKING BAD. It’s done and over. Adapt or die. They WILL NEVER win the fight against piracy. It’s like the drug war, pointless, endless, and with incalculable collateral damage.

            I think it’s also ridiculous to suggest that downloading will destroy all sales of content. I download plenty of music, I also buy plenty of music. What I download and what I buy pretty much depends on what I love. When I’m discovering a new genre or artist, I download, when I want to support someone I favour, I buy. MC Frontalot gives away all his albums but I’ve purchased each and every one from the very same site where they are available for free, because i want him to be able to continue making music. Guess who I don’t give a crap about the continued survival of? The RIAA, or anyone who sues families, dead people, children, and people who don’t own computers for the “crime” of listening to music or watching TV.

          4. Hah. Double hah. Great idea. People can either pay 99 cents for a legit copy or they can “share” a copy. If they get caught, they get fined 99 cents. I’m glad that someone has such an optimistic view of humanity.

            And making all “non-commercial” copying legal is another great plan. People can either pay 99 cents or get a legal copy from their friend for zip. How many copies will be sold? I predict one. What will the total revenues for all songs be: 99 cents.

            Oh wait, maybe they’ll sell a couple more copies to the people stuck on islands with no internet connection to get a torrent.

          5. >Hah. Double hah. Great idea. People can either pay 99 cents for a legit copy or they can “share” >a copy. If they get caught, they get fined 99 cents. I’m glad that someone has such an optimistic >view of humanity.

            I am saying non-commercial infringement should not be punished. Download a song to listen to, no penalty. Get found selling burned CDs with laser printed album art, get fined or go to jail. Preferably not a stupid nonsensical fine. 99 cents is just an example. Tell me, do you think the proposed damage amounts in the Jammie Thomas case were sensible? 2 million dollars for 24 songs? In my book that is extortion. A large company using their clout and the broken legal system to destroy the life of a law abiding tax paying citizen (who does not have anywhere near 2 million dollars), and for what? IT WON’T STOP PIRACY.

            I can appreciate the view that piracy is wrong. I don’t hold that view myself but I can understand its adherents. It’s just that you seem to forget that piracy is a reality. It always has been (since like, sheet music), and always will be, so rather than criminalizing a HUGE segment of the population, you find other ways to deal. You punish only the cases where financial damage can be PROVEN (again, a download is not a lost sale, not if the downloader is dirt poor or if what he’s downloading isn’t available where he is) and you let the rest of us go about our business. I’ve pumped PLENTY of money into the entertainment industry and will continue to. I want artists to get paid, but I am against the use of legal tactics against individuals by large corporations in support of that goal. It’s extortion, bullying, and to add insult to injury it won’t solve a single damn thing.

            >And making all “non-commercial” copying legal is another great plan. People can either pay 99 >cents or get a legal copy from their friend for zip. How many copies will be sold? I predict one. >What will the total revenues for all songs be: 99 cents.

            Uhh… clearly you don’t live in the same world I do. Right now, anyone CAN download songs for free. The content industries are suing a lot of people, but compared to the number of people downloading it’s a drop in the bucket. The chances of getting sued are quite small. Still, the content industry makes money. Maybe LESS money than before, but it’s still possible to make profits. All I’m saying is that copying is the new reality. You can make it as illegal as you want, people will still find ways to do it, just like smoking weed. So instead of outlawing it and needlessly hurting people in pursuit of an unattainable goal (stopping piracy), you legalize it and find ways to work WITH the phenomenon of sharing. People are gonna do what they want to do, and the suffering bottom lines of monolithic corporations aren’t going to convince anyone otherwise. Especially not if their response to their lost profits isn’t to innovate and find new ways of making money (or just settle for less, god forbid) but to PUNISH THEIR CUSTOMERS… it’s so ridiculously stupid and counterproductive.

            Bobster, you seem to think that pirates aren’t customers, but you are wrong. Piracy has changed how and what people buy but it doesn’t stop people from buying. You are buying into the corporate propaganda. Did you ever make a mix tape? The people you are defending call that “unauthorized duplication” and want you to go to jail for it. Wake the hell up, bud.

  7. @Bobster
    Cory’s well documented point is that DRM doesn’t work to protect the artist, doesn’t deter piracy, but does work to harm the legitimate user.

    It only takes ONE instance of breaking that particular DRM for the cat to be out of the bag forever, you can’t squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. Then all the pirates have it in a better, less intrusive, less annoying and less broken format than the legitimate users. If we see worth in convenience and functionality that means that the pirated version is actually worth MORE than the original version. This has to be a strange way to do business. And it IS possible to compete against free. Free is just a price point of 0, but convenience, security and sense of pleasure have to be accounted for. Look at Sweden where it seems like illegal distribution of music has plummeted after even more convenient and legal methods of getting music have become available (iTunes, Spotify and the like).

    This current model of selling to the masses is relatively new, a few hundred years in the case of books, a hundred years in the case of music and a few decades in the case of movies.
    Then the market changes.
    Maybe a novelists real hope for payment is through public speaking, maybe a musicians prime income will be live performances. That doesn’t change the fact that people need to create the demand for these services. In the case of the writer it may be to give interesting and great books away for free, musicians can give away studio recorded music or sell at a price which really doesn’t give them all that much back.

    The current model still allows content creators to get money from the sale of their studio creations (or carefully crafted books) and maybe that will continue. That would actually be rather nice. If it doesn’t then that is not the end of the arts but rather a new phase in the business surrounding these arts.

  8. The article above seems to be a except of a larger article… The discussion in general seems to be that an Artist or creator of digital media needs to figure out how to srvive in this digital world…

    People are going to violate your copyright if you prefer to have one.. there is no law in any country that is going to stop them from sharing your product; music, movies, ebooks, software… Its like fighting the drug trade.. when the masses want something, you just are not going to stop them…

    but however… the general public realizes that most of the money you make off your product DOES NOT go to the person who creates it… IE: Music, out of every $1000 of CD’s sold of a new album.. each group gets $23.. Most goes to the RIAA, or producers/label… Its these guys that are getting cut out of the equation the most… What some groups are doing, is releasing their music directly to the internet now, and they end up getting donations for it (honor system) which has made a few groups, millions thus far.. It also gets their stuff heard.. If it is good, then they end up selling out more shows, have bigger tours and sell more merchendise.. A win win for the music bands and the fans that support them… (and cuts the greedy bastards out who don’t deserve a cut anyway)

    You are not going to win by pissing off the people who buy your products by cutting off their internet service when they download your stuff… But you can use this P2P ablility to create new opprotunities to create revenue… The industry needs to stop spending millions spinning their wheels fighting it and embrace it like some have thus far…

    The only thing that this causes is you will not make money for creating crap anymore.. The MPAA can shove these crap movies out because they get their money now BEFORE people see them, word of mouth happens after the first weekend.. If you allow people to be able to view a movie or hear a CD then decide to donate or buy merchendise it can’t be crap…. people will not support it, or go see it.. Some movies are worthly of paying to see it in a theater. and a positive word of mouth will still make money that way…

  9. I was really hopeful that Cory would address the real cost of free – as Jaron Lanier does in his book, “You Are Not a Gadget”. I’m not going to hold my breath though – Lanier and Doctorow seem diametrically opposed. It would be extremely interesting to see Doctorow critically analyse the free/open movement though.

  10. Oh a BTW… one example I heard is from people in 3rd world countries… like Africa or the Middle East… Microsoft still trys to market their software for the same prices over there… however, who is going to by Microsoft Office for $98USD when thats how much most people in the area make in a month or two?

    Who is going to go to a theater in Cairo, Egypt to see a movie for $14.99USD when they avg that much per week or month?

    This is what encourges large scale piracy.. They can’t get it or see it any other way…

    Also, I know many people in Russia who download American TV shows because they are not broadcast over there.. With Internet sharing you create a worldwide market…

  11. getting paid to perform live is one of the only ways that people who make content can expect to get paid anymore. bashing someone for collecting fees to speak is like bashing a band for selling tickets to their shows. it’s not hypocritical. it’s how business is done.

    i think the real beef is that people who work for a living discuss the terms of payment up front. only writers, musicians, and artists do work without compensation and then expect payment. even dudes that dig ditches for a living discuss wages up front.

    if so good for you cory for getting paid before you play. you’re automatically 10 steps ahead of the content industry.

  12. @bobster: There are no easy answers to your questions, and anyone who offers them is lying to you at your expense, at the expense of other creators, and of the rest of us who just want to hear some music or see a movie (that we’ve paid for) without feeling like criminals.

    It does happen that for writers and performers the loss-leader concept is more often advantageous than is a total lockdown of their content. The former also doesn’t spin off a secondary or tertiary industry that ultimately works against creators. This may not be true for creators in all media, but the traditional system enriches the middlemen more than it does the creators, and it’s showing its age anyway.

    If creators want a system that maximizes revenue for them and minimize the effort and expense of collecting and/or protecting it, they’ll have to make one themselves, as a lot are doing. Don’t expect any help from the rentiers, copyright enforcers and other middlemen.

    1. Oh, yes. You’re right that a bit of sharing is better than total lockdown, but we’ve got to come to grips with the fact that something bad has to happen to copyright violators or else there’s no reason to have a law. So I’m looking for Cory and any of the others in this forum to spell out what they think should happen to the average Joe who’s just too cheap. Is it a lawsuit? Jail time? A fine? How big of a fine? It can’t be too small or there’s no reason to buy legit copies.

      If you can’t articulate how and how much punishment should be applied, you can’t say, “I’m all for copyright”.

      1. The incentive to buy legit copies is to support the author’s livelihood, not to avoid jail. Nobody is forced to get music at gunpoint, so there’s no need to threaten the average consumer.

        The copyright you describe is a very narrow definition of author’s rights; authors should have the right to stop people from abusing their work (like Reagan using Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” without asking for permission nor understanding a word of the song), but that doesn’t mean that they should have the right to disconnect me from the world.

        In the XXI century, the definition of copyright will have to be different from the original one (which, by the way, was written in order to protect *PUBLISHERS*, not authors). Defending the original definition is an exercise for corporate whores.

        1. While I understand Springsteen’s reluctance to let Reaganauts play his music at campaign rallies, you’re actually proposing a very strict view of copyright. If I don’t like the event that you’re holding, I get to shut it down. If you play my song at a party and I don’t like your politics, I can sue you. The laws are a mishmash today, but I don’t know if you really believe that the copyright holder should have that much power.

          1. Nice try. What I’m referring to is already possible (check out the definition of “author’s moral rights”) and doesn’t require any stomping on civil liberties.

            What *does* require stomping on civil liberties is the current view of copyright as the right to stop *anyone* from copying data without the explicit consent of the author. Since you can copy data everywhere now, and on any sort of device, this sort of law will have to be enforced everywhere and on any device you own. Welcome to 1984.

        2. (like Reagan using Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” without asking for permission nor understanding a word of the song)

          Hey, all that does is make Reagan look foolish to those who do understand it. I also liked Palin using any music by Heart.

  13. I was quite impressed at how little she said in ~700 words.


    *Forgetting that’s actually a fairly normal charge for experts to do lectures…

    **Which is not actually what is being lectured about…

  14. Since the record companies claim there is a value to each song that is released for free would it be possible for them to claim a tax right off for theft or for a “loss leader” release as part of the cost of doing business? I’m not a tax guy so I don’t know. Anyone here have a thought on this? Does it happen already?

  15. Re Helienne Lindvalle’s argument: The last time I saw a straw man that big, it was on fire and Christopher Lee was standing in front of it.

    A creator’s real market is the people who are willing to pay for his or her output and who come back to buy more. Going after nibblers and leeches isn’t going to expand that market. It just generates money for enforcers and peddlers of technological snake oil and not for the creators, for whom it only generates bad will. Don’t bother. Dropping the hammer on small fry didn’t win the War on Drugs and it won’t work in enforcing copyright.

  16. …that something bad has to happen to copyright violators…

    Return to the original US term of copyright (fourteen years, with opt in for another fourteen) and I’m all in favor of throwing the book at pirates.

    But if someone pirates IP from the ’70s or earlier and I’m on the jury, I exercise my right to nullify and the defendant walks.

  17. In Spain it is totally legal to download anything you want, provided you don’t commerce with it. The only punishable violation is to earn something by providing copyrighted content. That law is the reason that in Spain no one has been convicted or had to pay a fine for downloading content.

    The special interests are working now their way to get passed a new law that will create a way to bypass that “protection” without having to change the former law: A “commitee” would decide now if a web page or similar has to be banned, without a relevant intervention of a judge.

  18. Something bad should definitely happen to those who copy and resell for profit. People who just download, nothing at all, really. The fines currently imposed have nothing to do with proportion to the crime and everything to do with making enforcement not just economically worthwhile, but profitable as well.

    There are plenty of reasons to buy legit copies and people do. iTunes and other such sites are making tons on it. And, believe it or not, people still buy CDs, despite the ridiculously high price. But I’d be very surprised if any creators out there could honestly say harsher copyright enforcement directly translated to more money in their pockets. More likely the money went into the enforcers’s pockets, and drained money from the pockets of taxpayers. But those costs don’t count, of course.

  19. I wish Cory would just finally decide which of two incompatible world views he holds. Either one is reasonable, but he can’t logically hold both, and yet in nearly every article on the subject he espouses both:

    1) DRM is irrelevant because people will find ways around it.
    2) DRM is evil and a threat to Civilization As We Know It.

    You can’t consistently believe both.

    1. You’re missing the three words that makes those compatible:

      1) DRM is irrelevant because people will find ways around it.
      2) Attempting to enforce DRM is evil and a threat to Civilization As We Know It.

      Allowing for some hyperbole in the phrasing of #2, those are perfectly compatible, and I think Cory has done a good job explaining his position on them.

    2. The positions aren’t inconsistent, except with an equivocation on “irrelevant”.

      1) DRM is ineffective at doing what its pushers claim it is supposed to do, so it is irrelevant in a conversation about how to stop piracy.

      2) DRM is evil and will destroy the world.

      Those two positions aren’t incompatible. But (1) is not saying that DRM is irrelevant in the sense that NO ONE should care about it, which would be incompatible with (2), since (2) implies that we ALLS should care about DRM. It’s irrelevant in a conversation about how to stop piracy, because Cory thinks it doesn’t actually do that.

      1. But how can it “destroy the world” if people can get around it? If DRM really is just a joke being played on execudrones by their sniggering programmers who know it can’t work, what’s the problem? It’s only scary if you really assume that content will be locked up.

        1. Most people agree that prohibition was irrelevant for stopping alcohol consumption, because people found ways around it, and yet still evil because it managed to create all sorts of problems. I am not clear on where you see the contradiction.

        2. Why should I break the law to get around the crap that they add (that doesn’t deter pirates)?

          I just don’t bother. I don’t use it.

        3. People can get around DRM for the purpose of infringing copyright. Unfortunately, it stands in the way of all sorts of other things. People who would make legitimate innovations are stymied, people who would tinker and learn are blocked, while people who want illegitimate copies hardly even notice the DRM.

          This is especially bad when there is legislation propping up the DRM, as there now is in many parts of the world (starting with the US and the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA). Without the legislation, programmers probably would just snigger and ignore it. With the legislation, everything that touches anything vaguely related to DRM is tainted and turns toxic.

          We probably never see most of what’s blocked; it never gets made or never gains popularity, because of the taint. Occasionally, there’s a visible blip: the Linux box that can’t play DVDs out of the box — not for any technical reason, all the code is ready to roll, but simply because a legitimate distributor can’t distribute code that’s been tainted by contact with DRM, even if the purpose of that code is purely to allow legitimate customers to watch their legitimately-purchased DVDs. The bulk of it, though, is just one big chilling of innovation; in the nature of things, we can’t know what things would have been invented but weren’t.

          So, (1) DRM is irrelevant for preventing copyright infringement, while (2) threatening all sorts of beneficial things unrelated to copyright infringement. Therefore (3) DRM is evil.

          1. I hear this argument so often. “DRM stops innovation”

            How exactly? Linux can’t play MP3’s and DVD’s because no one company/group can be charged the appropriate fee’s for licensing the technology used to create and playback these digital formats, and still have “across the board” support.

            It sort of makes sense for software, but when you realize that most software can only be analyzed in it’s distributed binary form or from the manner in which is performs client/server connections. All of which can be considered proprietary business information. Should companies not be allowed to release products which they do not wish the general public to know how they operate?

            The simple truth is that most people could not care one bit about all of this “Free Culture” posturing. Those who do care are more apt to follow the Loudest Squeaky Wheel than a big bad unfeeling Corporation. By closing off their minds the do themselves a great disservice. Think for yourself, study economics and history. Being so certain that what Cory says is the only future possible will only make you look foolish when the actual future arrives.

          2. I hear this argument so often. “DRM stops innovation”

            How exactly?

            By making tinkering both more difficult and illegal. Much innovation occurs not as a result of a directed research effort, but by a serendipitous collision of two “half-ideas” (to borrow a phrase from a recent BB post). To get half-ideas, one needs to be able to tinker, check out hunches; for collisions, one needs to be able to talk about the half-ideas widely and publicly.

            By requiring potentially-disruptive new companies to obtain permission from incumbents.

            By restricting innovation only to people in industry-approved R&D programmes.

            Linux can’t play MP3’s and DVD’s because no one company/group can be charged the appropriate fee’s for licensing the technology used to create and playback these digital formats, and still have “across the board” support.

            In fact, fees are a minor problem (and a different discussion). The major problem is that Linux and DVD playback technology is licensed on fundamentally incompatible terms.

            Let me spell it out, because this is an important point: one of the fundamental tenets of Linux is that everyone is permitted and encouraged to modify the software. Both the Free Software and Open Source camps agree on this; it’s “Freedom 1” for Free Software, and points 2 and 3 in the Open Source definition. Without this, Linux would not be Linux.

            The fundamental principle of DRM is that everyone is forbidden and prevented from modifying DVD players. Without this, DRM would not be DRM.

            You can see the contradiction: a Linux DVD playing program would have to both permit and encourage changes (otherwise it’s not Linux) and simultaneously forbid and prevent them (otherwise it’s not DRM).

            Should companies not be allowed to release products which they do not wish the general public to know how they operate?

            Hmm, an interesting question; there are arguments against it. For instance, in many countries it’s illegal to sell food without disclosing the ingredients. For software, I’m personally not fussed, provided that there isn’t a law forbidding reverse engineering. It’s not a good thing for companies to release products with hidden functionality, but in the long term we can out-compete them, so we don’t need a law requiring disclosure with the attendant risk of unintended harmful consequences.

          3. Quote:
            By making tinkering both more difficult and illegal. Much innovation occurs not as a result of a directed research effort…

            …one needs to be able to talk about the half-ideas widely and publicly.


            But all of these things you mentioned will happen without regard to ‘legality’. It seems that my basic problem with all of this is, the vigilance needed/proposed by “New Media Douchebags” like Cory to keep things from being “locked down” by TPTB is the other side of the coin of those who wish to restrict it in the first place. Innovation will happen, you cannot place limits on the human spirit.

            By requiring potentially-disruptive new companies to obtain permission from incumbents.

            By restricting innovation only to people in industry-approved R&D programmes.


            Both of these statements are patently false. Never before in the history of humankind has there been as many people with the knowledge and drive to develop new products and new idea’s. Can you afford an oscilloscope? Great, build yourself some decently timed circuits. Can you afford an SEM? No? Well you wouldn’t be able to afford the materials needed for developing new substrates anyways.

            Otherwise, get yourself an arduino board like everyone else. Disruptive developments will be made, look at how everything gets cracked now.

            Were any of these options available 30 years ago? outside of a set of specialized workers who all got their training from big bad corp’s?

            The idea that corporations and governments are actively working to keep access to technology out of the hands “possibly brilliant” individuals is absurd. That level of control and conspiracy leads to things like thinking that the trend of miniaturization combined with developments in making and using useful electromagnetic-radiation and materials technology could only be inspired by alien technology.

            Every modern electronic contrivance has come out of the domain of the military-industrial complex, saying that these same people are trying to take it all away would mean that they hope to erase the pursuit of knowledge.

            This game of Cat and Mouse is a primary motivator. If there are no bad guys, who are the good guys? Human innovation does not need to be championed, it needs to be exercised. Inspiration takes it’s own path and cannot be shepherded.

            I like your arguments, and need to study them more. But I am far from convinced…

          4. The idea that corporations and governments are actively working to keep access to technology out of the hands “possibly brilliant” individuals is absurd.

            Uh, you do realise this is a thread about DRM?

            You do realise that DRM involves both manufacturer efforts (robustness rules) and government efforts (such as the DMCA) to keep access to certain technology out of the hands of, well, everyone?

            I don’t know how you got to the military-industrial complex from DRM. The two have very little to do with each other.

        4. Let’s say I claimed to you that you should take a bath in sulfuric acid to cure your acne. I suppose you would conclude that either sulfuric acid is perfectly safe for a bath, or else it’s not but it’s still an excellent treatment for acne. I suppose you would think any other conclusion would be a contradiction, since sulfuric acid cannot be both dangerous and ineffective at the same time.

  20. I’d like to see just how many authors have benefited from Cory’s Give It Away model. It works for Cory, because he has a mile-high podium from which to shout his message and a very large captive(ated) audience. Being a Very Loud Squeaky Wheel has given him the opportunity to get paid to be a Very Loud Squeaky Wheel by increasing the demand for Very Loud Squeaky Wheels. Is it working for any other non-established author without a giant podium and a built-in audience?

    1. I don’t know anyone else who’s done it quite the way that Cory’s done it. Plus it’s important to keep in mind the scale of his achievement. He’s had more success than the median, but I wonder whether he’s managed to beat the average. He hit the NYT best seller list for kids with Little Brother. That’s nothing to sneeze at but it’s the kids’ list and I bet he needs to keep charging $15,000 for talks.

      A quick glance at Amazon shows why. Little Brother is ranked 24,895 in sales. His more recent book Makers is at 148,462 and For the Win is 85514. Down and Out in Fantasy Land, published in 2003, is at 232194.

      Compare that with William Gibson, a writer who may not be in the news as often as Cory Doctorow but who doesn’t give his books away. Mona Lisa Overdrive is at 18709 and it’s not really one of his better books if you ask me. His new book, Zero History, is up at 277 and even his classic, Neuromancer, published back in the last century, is at 8150.

      Remember that the long tail is at work here. I would be surprised if Amazon is selling 20-30 copies of For the Win per week. This is quite a success given that many books are lucky to sell one per month, but it’s hardly what I might call a true success that would encourage me to try the same game.

  21. I wish Cory would just finally decide which of two incompatible world views he holds. Either one is reasonable, but he can’t logically hold both, and yet in nearly every article on the subject he espouses both:

    The ability to hold conflicting philosophies is one of the things that separates the characters at the beginning of 2001 from the characters at the end.

    1. The ability to hold conflicting philosophies is one of the things that separates the characters at the beginning of 2001 from the characters at the end.

      Even more reassuringly, it’s also a defining characteristic of the winners in 1984.

    2. “The ability to hold conflicting philosophies is one of the things that separates the characters at the beginning of 2001 from the characters at the end.”

      I believe I might have to have that on a tee-shirt.

  22. It seems to me that governments are using copyright as a tool to abridge our right to free speech and even eventually take that freedom away. The Internet is a threat to their power, they are scared of a tool people can use to disseminate truth and band together
    The protagonists in “Little Brother” and “Unwirer” just opted out of the corporate internet and created their own. I’m not saavy enough to know how much science was in the science fiction but if could be done it should be done.
    I only buy music directly from bands that create it, I watch dvd’s checked out of the library and I buy books from authors who support Creative Commnons.
    I’m tired of living in the USA, Inc…a wholly owned subsudiary of corporate america

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