Cory's new USC undergrad course: PWNED

Registration is now open for my next course at USC, an undergrad class about DRM, EULAs, copyright, technology and control in the 21st century, called "Pwned: Is everyone on this campus a copyright criminal?"

It's an undergrad course offered as a COMM499 class, but it's open to any student on campus. I'll be podcasting it if I can figure out a good recording setup, too. The main class assignment is to work through Wikipedia entries on subjects we cover in the class, in groups, identifying weak areas in the Wikipedia sections and improving them, then defending those improvements in the message-boards for the Wikipedia entries.

The class runs Tuesday afternoons from 3:30-6:20PM. Lots of USC undergrads asked me about attending the grad seminar I'm teaching this semester — here's your chance. Roll up, roll up!

Every garden has a snake: computers aren't just tools for empowering their owners. They're also tools for stripping users of agency, for controlling us individually and en masse.

It starts with "Digital Rights Management" — the anti-copying measures that computers employ to frustrate their owners desires. These technologies literally attack their owners, treating them as menaces to be thwarted through force majeure, deceit, and cunning. Incredibly, DRM gets special protection under the law, a blanket prohibition on breaking DRM or helping others to do so, even if you have the right to access the work the DRM is walling off.

But DRM's just the tip of the iceberg. Every digital act includes an act of copying, and that means that copyright governs every relationship in the digital realm. Take a conversation to email and it's not just culture, it's copyright — every volley is bound by the rules set out to govern the interactions between large publishing entities.

Playing a song for a buddy with your stereo is lawful. Stream that song to your buddy's PC and you could be facing expulsion and criminal prosecution.

Every interaction on the Web is now larded over with "agreements" — terms of service, acceptable use policies, licenses — that no one reads or negotiates. These non-negotiable terms strip you of your rights the minute you click your mouse. Transactions that would be a traditional purchase in meatspace are complex "license agreements" in cyberspace. As mere licensors, we are as feudal serfs to a lord — ownership is conferred only on those who are lucky enough to be setting the terms. Our real property interests are secondary to their "intellectual property" claims.

When the computer, the network, publishing platforms, and property can all be magicked away with the Intellectual Property wand, we're all of us pwned, 0wnz0red, punkd. Our tools are turned against us, the law is tipped away from our favor.

Link to course catalog, Link to draft syllabus