Monday, August 04, 2008

What Cory Said

I'd like to just go ahead and endorse absolutely everything Cory Doctorow said in his talk here. It's about "Life in the Information Economy", and it's got just about every important point about copyright and the all-pervasive threat that Big Content plays to a sane and just life with the Internet.

One of the points he makes is that, yes, it may actually be true that Internet piracy poses an irreconcilable threat to the status quo (or rather, the status quo ante) in cultural production, where profits are made by huge industrial producers of millions of pressed discs with digital information on it. But there's no evidence that the Internet is a threat to human cultural production, quite the opposite.

The analogy Doctorow uses is the protestant reformation: Luther and his progeny made it impossible for the Catholic Church to build cathedrals and beautiful monuments like St. Pauls anymore. While this is regrettable for those who were employed building Cathedrals and their dependents, this didn't lead to less religion, or less Christianity. It certainly didn't lead to worse Catholicism. But it did destroy the old order, and replaced it with something new.

Similarly, any number of factors involved with digital technology -- piracy, Youtube, increasing economies for independent producers, whatever -- may make it impossible or more difficult to make $300 million blockbusters. But whatever happens, it won't silence musicians or deafen the public: just as Christians in the 1600s had a surfeit of religious choices, we now literally have more culture than we know what to do with.

And this is a very, very good thing. It would be nice if people would take a moment to recognize that. Instead, we seem intent on backing a counter-reformation, designed to lock us in to the business models of the One True Faith.

I've been wondering when this would get more popular:
Last year, my freshman university students in Los Angeles regaled me with stories of "hard-drive parties" where everyone would gather with guitars, beers and whopping great hard drives that cost less than either the guitars or the beers. While the students jammed, sang and danced, they simply synchronised their drives using whatever laptops were lying around, transferring hundreds of gigabytes' worth of music while composing and recording songs of their own.

It made me wish I was a teenager again: that sounded a lot more fun than painstakingly recording my vinyl to 90-minute cassettes and shyly giving them to girls in the hope of impressing them.
A USB-connected enclosure and a hard drive to match it will probably cost you less than $80 these days -- more if you buy a ready-made one because none of your friends knows what to do with a screwdriver. For that you get a cheap case and a 250G HD. USB plugs are faster than the Internet, so the "bandwidth" for a hard drive party is ridiculous and ridiculously cheap. So in some ways, this isn't a bad solution to the problem of pervasive copyright enforcement. But I can't help but think this is what Swiss Catholics did during Calvin's reign in Geneva: hid in basements with a bit of alcohol and sung quietly while the Consistory looks out for any deviancy.

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