Information Doesn't Want To Be Free By Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has a life beyond science fiction as a copyright activist. He wrote two books on the nature of copyright that are in essay form, Content, and Context. Information Doesn't Want To Be Free would seem to be in a similar vein but is a guidebook for artists in the digital age.

There's a lot to take apart here in Doctorow's arguments. However, he asserts that as an artist, you need to thread the needle between the old guard of Copyright holders seeking to take your license and make you a part of the entertainment machine, paying you pennies compared to what they take. (Think a less abrasive, The Problem with Music.) He also warns against the new digital landlords like Google and Apple, that combine DRM and copyright law to ensure a dominant market position.

It's a somewhat quick read, and well written. Doctorow basically says that we need to balance the government power to protect us from monopolies, with the power it seeks to spy and catalog all of our online behavior. He, in fact, pushes that the monopolistic tech giants are de facto agents of the government, collecting our information.

There are two places where I felt that Doctorow might be a bit optimistic. I don't think that there has been a court case yet that defines copyright as strictly an industrial regulation. I hope that the EFF eventually gets US case law to this point, but it isn't quite there.

My other issue is the idea that we at once need to use the government to ensure that the marketplace is open to competitors to the existing giants, but we also have to fight the government on the surveillance front. In a more nuanced political system, this might be possible. I'm not sure how in the US that we can at once wield government's regulatory powers while trying to restrain its police powers. We tend to have a binary view of government authority in the US, not to mention that both parties seem keen to surveil as much as possible.

There's a few other nitpicks that I have, mostly with his more utopian ideas about crowdfunding. However, I think that Doctorow is right about the need to free the Internet from the government and the tech giants. Like everywhere else in society, freedom is at risk from the unchecked power of corporations and the government.

Yet, I think that we're missing the key ingredient to organize around. The rallying cry of "DIY for all" might liberate us from Google, Apple, the RIAA, and the MPAA. What it won't do is liberate us from the ever increasing tendency of governments to use draconian surveillance programs whenever possible.

That might be a lot to ask of a book focused on helping artists build their businesses, and protect themselves on the Internet. I would expect to see Doctorow write a more directly political book now that he is back with the EFF, with a particular platform we can rally around for internet freedom. Digital Rights is a caucus in search of a party, with a diversity of political stripes within it. That diffusion may be why neither party takes the platform seriously, but we need some way to move forward.

Mike M

Mike M

I have written various kind of reviews for years. I currently write for Make Use Of. I used to write for Digital Entertainment News, Macgasm, and the Examiner. My day job is as an IT monkey. Follow me on Twitter.