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Opinion: Give us free

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‘Everyone who has tried posting books online has done it again. That’s a pretty good indicator it works. An artist’s enemy is obscurity, not piracy.’

That’s the no-introduction-needed Cory Doctorow talking about the brave new freeware-everywhere world with his fellow Canucks at MacLeans.

It’s easy enough (and probably premature) to mock the death throes of intellectual property behemoths. Doctorow goes one better by actually making a living in the barter economy, though the details are a bit vague: He says he lives off the advertising at BoingBoing and is getting bigger advances on his novels. All I know of life on earth tells me every time a writer gets a generous book advance a publisher gets a little bit poorer, and it’s not clear to me how long such a system can last. But that would be in keeping with Doctorow’s contempt for stability as a goal:

The question to ask about any intellectual property rights regime, he says, is ‘does it encourage or discourage involvement, art-making, information-sharing?’ In his opinion, the current system only serves corporate dinosaurs, ‘big dying institutions.’ They use copyright to try to regulate technology, to criminalize (or at least turn a profit on) all the peer-to-peer file sharing that is the ‘Internet’s greatest achievement: lowering the cost of mass collaboration, the barriers to innovation.’ It adds up to an eternal and futile attempt to throttle the mechanisms of change. Long before sheet-music publishers fought record makers (who later battled radio stations, who complained of TV and so on), monks who produced manuscripts were damning the printing press as the devil’s engine. What’s particularly galling for Doctorow is that ‘yesterday’s pirate is today’s admiral — Sony, the VCR pirate, denounced by moviemakers a generation ago, has come full circle to sue Napster’s successors.’ Of course, institutions — especially wealthy ones — want to live on, even past their times, Doctorow acknowledges. ‘I used to be a bartender, and there was always somebody who didn’t want the night to end. But there comes a time when you have to put the chairs up on the table.’

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As a fulltime employee of a big, dying institution and as the guy who never wants the bar to close, I can confirm that Doctorow is exactly right. Read the whole story.


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