Every Pirate Wants to Be an Admiral: why less copyright gets you more culture

Here's a short video I recorded for The Guardian called "Every Pirate Wants to Be an Admiral," in which I lay out the case for a less-restrictive copyright as better for culture.

Cory Doctorow on copyright and piracy: 'Every pirate wants to be an admiral'

45

  1. When I listen to Cory (and others with similar opinions) speak about the subject, it sounds fair and common interest. And I think most of the people feels the same way. So why do our laws go the oposite direction? Is democracy failing here?

    1. Yup. We’re at one of those splits in the road heading to democracy or fascism. Pick.

  2. Cory makes all the sense in the world, but the forces in favor of restriction are already the rulers of the world. We’re not going to change any of it until we change our consumption habits and re-examine our tastes and desires.

    And that’s some jacket Cory’s wearing.

  3. If Big Content was clearly winning the battle across the globe, it wouldn’t have to entrench its insanely restrictive model of business in plurilateral treaties (ACTA involved about 40 countries, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which goes even further, only involves about a dozen pacific countries). Instead, the WTO and WIPO, multilateral institutions that bind almost all countries, would be the place to do it.

    What the producers have found is that the developing countries aren’t cooperating. Why should they? The new approach of Hollywood/RIAA etc is to unite the developed world around the highest possible standard of intellectual property rights, and to draconian measures of enforcement (and even then, there is some serious opposition within the European Parliament, as these measures encroach on human and civil rights)). The strategy is potent – and trade agreements extend its reach – but the fact that things have to be done this way tells you that a real battle is going on.

    The future, as they say, is not yet written; the key to winning the next fight that Cory describes may involve building a global alliance around the issue. Can anyone think of a technology that might enable that? :)

  4. People so easily forget history. I mean, you look at how Jack Valenti/the MPAA tried to ban VCRs, and you see that it’s basically the same exact situation with file sharing networks. They try to force us back in time in order to extract a few more dollars from us, and since our governments have been bought out from under us by big business, the common sense solutions (legalization of marijuana, legalization of non-commercial piracy) get bogged down in political FUD.

    At least the internet gives us tools to fight back with.

  5. We all know this to be true, but the trick is to convince the politicians to listen to the people and not to the backwards thinking monopolies. We need to be far more vocal about protecting our rights or they will get stripped away from us.

    Also, Cory needs to get glasses that fit and don’t keep slipping down.

  6. Cory is not only very thoughtful, he has a glowing white neck suitable for a Cangland person.

    1. That guy needs some different specs.

      That’s funny, I was looking at the glasses and thinking how cool the style was. To each his own, I suppose.

      1. I like them too, but I think another commentor made a good point that perhaps they aren’t quite the right size for Cory. Not that it really matters, I think they’re cool either way, but I can see why there were a couple negative comments about them.

        I will say that I’m a little surprised at Cory’s fashion on display here; I guess I’ve only seen photos or video of him a few other times but I didn’t imagine him to be such a sharp dresser for some reason!

  7. The problem is 10 seconds into the video he assumes a fact not in evidence – namely that the goal is to increase the cultural realm.

    Unfortunately few have that goal.

    1. That’s what I was thinking.

      Culture doesn’t need much in the way of profit- it’s an extension of humankind in any setting. Not too many generations ago, everyone was involved in producing their own local culture, with or without remuneration. It hadn’t become a profession yet, or at least not one that minted multimillionaires. Art- visual, acoustic, literary- predates capitalism by millennia. Briefly, for the past century, this was challenged by the existence of machines that a) could distribute a single work to the whole world, b) cost a lot to obtain, and c) could do things no one else could do, like bring together the world’s best writing and performing talent, and add in fancy effects. Large-scale profit became both possible and necessary.

      This is no longer really the case. Consumer-level equipment will continue to lag behind what the pros can do- but not by that many years. Talent is no longer really essential for making money in the industry- plenty of prominent actors seem to lack it. And so the amateurs- or aspiring pros- can make whatever they choose, and distribute it widely. That is understandably scary for them. The ancient practice of using pre-existing culture, for sharing or as a starting point for new creation, just happens to be illegal in some cases now, which helps give the entrenched pros a weapon. The money they make gives them the power to wield that weapon very effectively.

      1. The way I might phrase it, is that the goal isn’t to expand the cultural sphere, the goal is to expand the economic sphere.

        Up until recently, these two sphere expanded at the same rate: the only realistic way to change culturally, was to make a change in the material items that the culture is built from.

        What internet culture allows is something that capitalism hates: the culture can evolve like wildfire, without making any sizable dent in the number of gadgets being sold. That’s good for customers and bad for sellers.

        Cory’s weakest analogy is with radio capitalism- they may have won the right to broadcast recordings, but they can’t expand to the limits of the bandwidth, as the technology would allow. If we were allowed to use computer receivers to separate the radio bands, the would be no limit on how many radio stations there could be.

        So the older industries have already caved too much for capitalism.

  8. All so true….I’ve been saying this for years! I pay lots to see movies in theaters…I also have crates of DVDs…..the studios are not losing a PENNY to “piracy”…..they need to get over it and figure out a way to ACCOMMODATE PEOPLE!!! I admit it, I used to bootleg games….than a little thing called Steam came along…..it is convenient and every week they have massive sales where games that are usually $30-$50 go down to $3-$10 and I buy up games. Now I am completely legit in my gaming….because it accommodates ME!!! iTunes and Pandora did the same for music. Movies are still the most inconvenient, overpriced entertainment media on the market! For starters the only way to get any new release is on a wasteful piece of plastic! I can also use iTunes, but I like 1080p….I could use a PS3, but I aggregate movies with my Mac Mini…..so these wasteful pieces of plastic are the ONLY OPTION!!! Lets get accommodating here! Until this changes there will be NO change in piracy….

  9. I love the story of progress/piracy… I’m wondering if you have something written down that details all of those transitions? a paper or two? Would love to read them

  10. The problem this time round is that Capitalists managed to talk government into opening the borders to globalism. This then means that except for the nations providing the cheapest labor, the rest runs a trade deficit. The governments hope to counteract this why shoring up IP, so that those production nations has to pay a “tax” to the “IP” nations each time something is made using said “IP”.

    In a way this is a rerun of what ignited the US war of independence, as UK tried to force all trade to go via them so it could be taxed and controled. The difference this time is that instead of there being a concentration of rebels in a geographical area, we are distributed around the world. And so is the “goverment” we are fighting, the various multi-national corporations that produce in one place, sell in another, and record the profits of this exchange to a tax haven separate from either. And then the people on top skim those profits via dividend rather then income, and so avoid any kind of income tax.

    1. I think your forgetting your Marx, friend. It doesn’t matter what they do, the pandoras box is opened and new form of technological leap has been made that at first by-passed the the social net and system of the capital, transgressing it (? this is not my first language, sry if it doesn’t makte any sense). Now they it is being forced into the logic of the capital (with personalized IP’s and such) – the question is it can it?

      The phone, the automobile and other technological leaps where forced more or less easily into the logic of the capital but this is sort of grating and tricky and completely different from what has been before.

      Its like when a chared marketsystem cropped up in the european cities around the rennaissance that completely bypassed the system of feudalism and created a new way for commodities and with the rise of real guilds and merchant houses, information to pass between hands outside of the control of the feudal society. That was the tiny part that created capitalism in the end and that overturned that society. Perhaps this will be the next leap?

      Whatever happens I think that by informing kids about how to protect themselves, hide themselves and use their heads on the internet and to learn how to use it to the full extent of its potential is the best way to beat this. Then it doesn’t matter how much they fight it, change comes no matter what.

  11. And that’s not the only problem: “Every Pirate wants to be an Admiral” is a cool catchy phrase, but I think it’s a little wishful. I think most pirates DON’T want to be admirals; they just don’t want to have Admirals, or Captains, or anyone telling them what to do, in fact all they want is the digital equivalent of what pirates have always wanted : ‘Rum, bum and ‘baccy'”. Realistically most ‘piracy’ is not ‘makers’ wanting to appropriate stuff made by other makers and “extend the cultural realm” by incorporating or altering that stuff into their own work. Most piracy, by volume, is people who want to see/hear something for free (r, b &b), or not available in their territory yet. It’s just wildly modish and disingenuous to pretend this isn’t so, and doesn’t actually help progress the argument. All the examples the Cory progresses through (Tin Pan Alley/Radio/TV/VCR’s etc) ended up with a fairly reasonable royalty structure whereby makers got paid for making something that gave pleasure/satisfaction to the consumer.That’s not a bad thing. Somewhere between the two equally silly extremes of, on the one hand “the Big 5 studios wanting to close down Youtube” and on the other “every Pirate wanting to be an Admiral”, a new structure will and should be found. Trying to find that sensible middle ground by standing on the extremes and pointing fingers at each other isn’t the best way to continue, even if its the traditional way to start.

    1. Most piracy, by volume, is people who want to see/hear something for free (r, b &b), or not available in their territory yet. It’s just wildly modish and disingenuous to pretend this isn’t so, and doesn’t actually help progress the argument.

      Except Cory didn’t say that. You seriously missed his point. You should rewind and have a closer listen.

      All the examples the Cory progresses through (Tin Pan Alley/Radio/TV/VCR’s etc) ended up with a fairly reasonable royalty structure whereby makers got paid for making something that gave pleasure/satisfaction to the consumer.

      You’re obviously not a performing artist who’s ever been signed; nor have you had a good listen with very many who have.

      Trying to find that sensible middle ground by standing on the extremes and pointing fingers at each other isn’t the best way to continue, even if its the traditional way to start.

      Ironically, it’s you pointing fingers and doing so without putting too much effort into listening/comprehension skills. Once again, you may want to rewind, review and rethink.

      1. You’re right. Three times. let me count the ways…

        I leapt to a conclusion. I took your advice and went back and listened. Cory said

        “When you’re making cultural policy whose goal it is to increase the cultural realm… that the way you increase the health of the cultural realm is to allow more people to participate in it in more ways”

        And because “Cultural Realm ” is such a wide and unquantifiable catch-all phrase that to use it without qualification is kinda meaningless, I assumed (my bad) that he, a really smart guy and a makerish fellow, was talking about participation as creation, rather than just consuming. As I said, my bad, leaping to conclusions, but not done in bad faith.

        You’re also right in saying;

        “You’re obviously not a performing artist who’s ever been signed”

        I’m not.

        But I might be a working writer who has. Quite a lot. Not quite as many books as Cory, but almost. And I might also be a life-long union and WGA member who does kinda understand about royalties and copyright, and reasonable pay for reasonable work. (And unreasonable pay for unreasonable work). I might even have gone further than just badmouthing Big Ent at no personal cost and gone on strike against them for a while… which is not to say that my opinion has any more validity than yours, but is to say that the Copyfight is not easily binary – there’s a middle ground where working stiffs are trying to earn a living and protect it . Other commenters eg Asmodeus and Anonymous 35 have shone a light on that middle ground much more eloquently than I did, BTW.

        Anyway, re: your final para;

        “Ironically, it’s you pointing fingers and doing so without putting too much effort into listening/comprehension skills. Once again, you may want to rewind, review and rethink.”

        Again, you’re very possibly right, but in the spirit of mutually assured Snarkicide, re your own no doubt accidentally patronising tone: Right back atcha, mate ; )

  12. Actually the difference now is that big money is perfectly willing to let people believe that they control the politicians, and the politicians are perfectly willing to let people believe that they are controlled by big money. That is, that the politicians are not for the voters, but are instead for the owners.
    Greed rules, rights lose.

  13. One thing is for sure. The urge to share experience is a deep and enduring human trait. Anyone trying to stifle it is in for rough time.

  14. A wise admiral knows when to turn a blind eye.
    So it is too with rights-holders, as to file-sharing and copying.

  15. I have a lot of respect for those on the copyleft who have found a way to make their living in the creative field without enforcing their rights to control the distribution of their work.

    I have less respect for those on the copyleft who feel an entitlement to consume whatever culture they want regardless of what the creator is trying to do.

    Mr. Doctorow seems to be in the first category while still enabling and justifying the second.

    1. I have a lot of respect for those on the copyleft who have found a way to make their living in the creative field without enforcing their rights to control the distribution of their work. I have less respect for those on the copyleft who feel an entitlement to consume whatever culture they want regardless of what the creator is trying to do. Mr. Doctorow seems to be in the first category while still enabling and justifying the second.

      Cory isn’t the only content creator that has come to realize you can strike a balance and make it less stressful and more fun in the process (and also be more profitable) by not consuming yourself with litigious behavior and instead embracing others that embrace your work. Kind of treating everyone like humans, ya know?

      If you have a minute, you should very much watch this interview:

      Neil Gaiman explains why he doesn’t sweat “piracy”

  16. I agree that arguing over ideas and information probably predates civilization, but I think Moore’s law is changing the dynamics of it. Information has been linked to technology. As cyberspace becomes more elaborate the argument will just increase in volume. Film and music piracy might only be the beginning.

  17. I think Cory’s argument is flawed on a number of fronts. The most basic is that “culture” isn’t really quantitative. There is culture everywhere humans are. They may not be producing media, or things that can be bought and sold as “culture”, but there is culture there nonetheless.It would be a part of the culture, basically.
    So no, there isn’t more or less culture based on the nature of copyright law.
    It also seems like a strawman to suggest that a massive website like YouTube cannot police the content it makes available. They certainly do enforce copyright claims already. Content is removed constantly due to copyright claims.
    It’s also simply erroneous to present copyright as though it is only enjoyed by mega-corporations. Clearly, they often have the motives and the resources to protect claims more than others, but ultimately copyright allows the creator/owner of a given piece of media/property to decide when, how and by whom his or her work can be used.
    So instead of imagining a future in which more creative people might be able to make a decent living by profiting from their own labor/work, Cory suggests that we throw out these possibilities in order to punish those who are creating “culture” that ( possibly) Cory simply doesn’t like, or views in ideologically-motivated terms.
    I’d like to suggest that those Progressives who share Cory’s concerns simply waive all copy-rights. Because that’s really what we’re talking about here. Without copyright protection any/every creative person runs the risk of having their work used in a way they don’t like or profit from.
    Who would really benefit? Might Disney not see huge potential in taking the most novel concepts that individuals present online and develop them on their own, without any form of remuneration?
    Why now, when it so much easier for everyone to create and transmit/distribute original content, do we imagine we need these radical changes?

    1. You make some excellent points. However, I don’t think that a five minute sound bite from a news outlet is a good presentation of this rather complex issue. A better example of Mr. Doctorow’s opinions can be found at http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?videoid?916425984001. It is an hour long presentation concerning regulation of computers and computing generally.

      We should remember that news outlets(including this one) attract viewers/users/readers by presenting controversy. This is not conducive to balanced arguments, although I find it immensely entertaining(this site, not the Guardian).

  18. If you are an artist and you agree with Cory, then release your work into public domain or under a more free, less restrictive Creative Common licenses.

    Most of the pirate sites Ive seen are using other people’s content in order to build up page rank, in turn, to generate ad revenue. There isn’t anything cultural about what they are doing – they are taking my work and generating revenue for themselves and nothing for me, and I created those materials they are taking. Where’s the cultural value in that?

    Copyright is extremely complex, and its being presented in a cartoon like fashion by most sides.

    Ive released some creative works in ways that allow other artists to generate “original works” from it. The complex and protective nature of copyright law (in many countries) allow me to do that. I can choose, as an artist, to free my work in any numbers of ways. But I have a problem with others feeling as if they can just take whatever I create without asking.

    1. “Most of the pirate sites Ive seen are using other people’s content in order to build up page rank, in turn, to generate ad revenue. There isn’t anything cultural about what they are doing – they are taking my work and generating revenue for themselves and nothing for me, and I created those materials they are taking. Where’s the cultural value in that?”

      Then contact them and ask for a cut of said ad revenue, similar to how radio stations fork over some of theirs for the right to play radios.

      Why sue and send goon squads (virtual and real) on what amounts smash and grabs? If the sites have such a profit level as is assumed, they surly can put a part of that into some kind of pot for the artists benefit.

      Hell, without people seeding and uploading files, these sites would be dead anyways. Perhaps people should start to petition them for coverage of the connection bills? Especially as ISPs more and more replace flat rate with usage tiers?

      That is a issue here. A digital download puts part of the reproduction expense at the side of the downloader, as that person is paying for his end of the connection and the storage the data will reside on. Would you pay the same price for a CD, if you had to bring your own blank?

  19. I feel like he’s talking more about distribution means and rights specifically than copyright generally. Now, if he means looking at distribution means and rights that fall under copyright, and altering them to keep up with an ever changing, tech-savy world, I’m all for it. I am not for anything that would loosen a creator’s rights to their IP.

    Mostly, I’m splitting hairs, but I think language is important here.

  20. The author makes great points about the fact current affairs are just the latest in a long line of those in power trying to keep status quo. But I’m not nearly as concerned about this current round being any more scary that the previous ones.

    Remember a few years ago when content owners were pushing to have hard drives and optical drives “copy protected” to prevent copyrighted material from ever getting onto computers? That never came about because the only way it would have worked is for EVERYONE to be forced to use it EVERYWHERE. The world is much messier than that. If the internet were somehow restricted, clever nerds would simply find a way around it and it would end up being nothing more than a small (but very expensive) bump in the road to progress.

  21. JVC (and others) developed VHS, which was the competitor to Betamax, not VCR. VCR of course is a more generic term and Sony gets as much credit as anyone for bringing the videotape technology pioneered by Ampex to consumers.

Comments are closed.