Cory Doctorow was in Portland promoting his new book Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free (Powells, Amazon).

Here are my notes from his talk at Powell’s Bookstore:

Cory and I at his booksigning.

Cory Doctorow and I at his book signing.
(Photograph by Erin Gately)

Cory Doctorow

Information Doesn’t Want to be Free
Creativity in the Twenty-First Century
  • If you don’t earn your living online now, you probably will in the future
  • It’s hard to generalize a single way to earn a living in the arts
  • Most people who set out to make money in the arts ends up losing money
  • Living in the creative fields and earning a living there is way out there…it’s a six sigma event.
  • Imagine millions and millions of people flipping coins… a few have coins that land on their edge. some people have this happen many times. The only thing that unites these people is luck.
  • But when artists make money, we treat them with reverence. But fundamentally they are just lucky.
  • But we put them on magazine covers, and try to figure out which business models serve artists the best.
  • But any business model will be quickly copied by thousands of new artists.
  • And business models change. they can’t stay the same.
  • The artists of yesterday want the business models of yesterday to stay in place. it’s like last year’s lottery winners wanting to win the lottery every year.
  • Three Laws
  • First Law: Anytime someone puts a lock on something and doesn’t give you the key, the lock is not there for your best interest.
    • (Funny anecdote about Cory’s literary agent, who also represented Arthur C. Clarke: “One thing I learn is that you always have to have three laws.”)
    • DRM: digital rights management.
    • DRM works by scrambling the creative work you upload, and then giving the audience/customer a player than can descramble the work, but which won’t let them do anything you don’t want: copy it, save it, play it in the United States.
    • But DRM only works if nobody can find the key, which has to be embedded in the player. So its trivial to find. Inevitable…
    • But it’s illegal thanks to a 1998 law.
    • As soon as Adobe, Amazon, or Apple puts DRM on something (and those are just the As), you’ve lost control over it. And your customer too.
    • Customers can only read the books in the ecosystem in which you bought them.
    • It’s like having a room in your house to only read Barnes & Noble books. But then if you bought books from Powell’s, you’d need to have another room to read them. And you couldn’t move the books from one room to the other.
    • Audible has 90% of the audio book market, and they have DRM, and they’ve locked up that market.
  • Second law: Fame won’t make you rich, but you can’t sell your art without it.
    • Tim O’Reilly said “The problem for most artists isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”
    • We’re left with: Five publishers, four labels, and five studios.
    • The contracts that exist today with the above are all screwing the artist, and it reflects that it’s a buyers market, because these companies own the market.
    • Lots of abusive terms, and lots of non-negotiatable.
    • It’s a competitor of last resort. The worst deal the traditional publishers can offer has to be competitive with what they think they can make indie.
    • The indie sector is at the end of a 15 year war with the traditional pubs.
    • Viacom wanted Google to have an army of lawyers to check the 96 hours of video upload to YouTube every minute. There aren’t enough lawyers in the world. You’d get to the heat death of the universe before you could review all the video.
    • There’s more efforts coming to attack the indies. We’re just seeing the beginning of it.
    • (lots of trade agreements cited.)
    • What happens with Viacom and cable is that the army of lawyers can’t be hired. So the content producers have to provide insurance that their content doesn’t infringe. And only rich people can afford that.
    • And so there is lots of other content rules coming like this.
    • What the Internet does, the primary purpose, is to make copies, as quickly and effortlessly as possible, and with high fidelity. Trying to make the internet copy stuff is like trying to make water less wet.
  • Third law: Information Doesn’t Want to be Free.
    • I invited Information out to the weekend at the Hamptom’s.
    • Information doesn’t want anything.
    • This isn’t about information.
    • This is about people.
    • People want to be free.
    • When we live in an information age, that means they want their information to be free.
    • When we put DRM in software and content, then we are taking freedom away from people.
    • Programmers are fallible. They make mistakes. And those mistakes can compromise your privacy. Your phone is a supercomputer in your pocket with a microphone and camera that you take into the bathroom and bedroom and that knows who your friends are, and what you talk to them about, and what your lawyer told you.
    • But the DRM laws make it illegal to talk about those mistakes. Which means that your phone can be attacked.
    • University of Michigan video showing a bluetooth hack with a pacemaker in which they cook bacon.
    • What happens when technology moves inside your body. Your future hearing aide isn’t something in your ear, it’s something in your mind. What will be the model for that? It is a device you control? or a device you don’t control? “You can’t do that Dave.”
    • The internet has tons of daily business, not just the “important stuff”, but also the banal stuff. But the banal stuff is important to. When I saw “how did you sleep?” to my wife, I know how she slept. My saying that is my way of saying “how are you? i care about you? i’m here for you.” it’s the soil from which everything grows.
    • In New Zealand…3 strikes rule that says that if you are guilty of copyright infringement 3 times, they take away internet access from your family.
    • Did study in the UK… People who have internet access have:
    • better health
    • better jobs
    • more civic-ly engaged
    • more politically engaged
    • better student grades
    • They passed the digital economy act: 3 strike rule.
    • Which means that they aren’t just taking away the internet access. they are taking away health, jobs, political engagement, and student grades.
  • How do you deal with self-criticism as you write?
    • Don’t revise until I’m done.
    • Don’t look too closely at what i’m doing.
    • Looked back at quality of what I wrote when I thought I was doing well, and when I thought I wasn’t doing well, and found no correlation. Had to do with how I felt, not what I produced.
  • Is there a parallel between the history of human cognition and the history of computer development?
    • (missed lots of good stuff here.)
    • we have no shortage of minds we are creating that think like people. we call them babies.
    • we need things that think differently than us.
    • to think computers will think like us is to think that airplanes will fly like birds.

There were many more great questions and answers, but that was the hardest part to capture.