Science fiction writer and blogger, Cory Doctorow has written a business oriented, short book entitled Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free. Of course, it shares a theme with my own Information Wants to be Shared although my book is written in a more positive vein. My book is longer, sells for less and will no doubt both sell and be shared less than Doctorow’s. Of course, that is the point of both my book and his! Priority in the market for attention matters.
The title of the book is misleading. It sounds as though Doctorow is saying that information needs to be priced but actually what he means to say is “Information Wants to be Free” is a useless cry to arms or cry of concern. He instead moves towards the “People want to be free” line. What he means by that is that when you buy a device or some content, Doctorow believes that you should have full control over it. He is concerned that DRM is something designed not to be in the consumer’s best interest (he’s right) and that hidden software in devices means that people lose control and that … you can imagine a set of circumstances that have become increasingly realistic over the last few years that that will be a quick road to subjugation of your rights. It is a lucid explanation of that path and something that we should all be concerned about. Not convinced? Then read this book.
From a business perspective, the main message to the ‘old school’ content providers of the world is ‘give up.’ Doctorow means that in the nicest possible way. He basically says that copying is very easy and it just does not make sense to (a) devote so many resources to preventing copying; (b) to incur all of the multiplied additional costs associated with strange attempts to strengthen copyright laws internationally when these harm many important rights and opportunities, as well as innovation and (c) perhaps the most pernicious are moves to make intermediaries like ISPs and YouTube liable for copyright infringements that have only led to those intermediaries being more limited in number and engaging in actions that reduce the overall value of creative works. Hence, rents flow from creative artists to intermediaries which is precisely the opposite of what copyright law is supposed to do.
For people who read Digitopoly, this is a great book for your next plane ride. Many of the arguments will be familiar but Doctorow’s crisp writing style will allow you to gain some additional perspectives as well as potentially fire you up the next time these issues come to play.
3 Replies to “Information Does not Want to be Free by Cory Doctorow”
Interesting, but I have always thought that the reason that DRM doesn’t work is that it isn’t sophisticated enough to perform two serve two diametrically opposed masters. On the one hand, when someone buys something it should be theirs and they should be able to do with it what they want. On the other hand, the publisher has the right to require that each instance of the intellectual property that is sold should be discrete and not reproduced without compensation. In some sense the capabilities of the distribution method have gotten ahead of the capabilities of the methods to extract rent for each discrete instance of the intellectual property that is produced and consumed.
This wasn’t generally a problem when intellectual property was largely distributed in physical form (on paper) because the discrete instances of the intellectual property were physical and could be conveyed physically without too much risk that illicit copies would be made and distributed without compensating the publisher.
It seems to me that until either people (as a group) become a lot more ethical (not likely) or DRM matures into something that can effectively support both masters referred to above (also not likely, but a lot more likely than the alternative) that this whole argument will continue and give us all the (you, me, Cory Doctorow) opportunity to make sure that the issue is well enough defined, that someday someone will figure out how to properly address it.