Meanland: Doctorow on Copyright vs Creativity

Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow spoke in Melbourne on Thursday night as part of the Meanland and Melbourne Writers Festival ‘Big Ideas’ lecture series. For those unable to attend, I have transcribed below as much as I could from my indecipherable notes on the lecture, ‘Copyright vs creativity’.

Rule number 1: If there’s a lock for something and you haven’t been given the key, it’s not for your benefit.

Digital locks are there to prevent unauthorised copies of digital works. However, warns Doctorow, Digital Rights Management (DRM) is there to reinforce the greatest lie: DRM exists to help you (the artist) and contain losses to piracy. Most countries have laws that prohibit breaking technology (or breaking DRM). You as an owner of a device cannot remove DRM from anything you’ve purchased for that device.

In actual fact, what it does is stop creators from authorising users across platforms, or having audiences across platforms. Therefore, we have a situation where creators are locked-in to distribution. It used to be that copyright belonged to people who created things. Now we live in a world where creators – and audiences – are locked-in to both distribution and platform.

‘Imagine audiences buy your books through the iPad,’ Doctorow put to the audience. As a creator, you could not authorise users to move to the Kindle if, for some reason, you decided to move platforms (or distributor). ‘It would be like Borders telling customers they could only use Ikea bookcases on which to shelve their books.’ If you as creator decide to change stores, you have to be certain that all those customers will follow – meaning they have to throw away all of their old books and buy new ones, or be satisfied owning parallel collections. He gave, as an example, the millions of apps touted for iPads and iPhones. On average, most of these app creators make very little, but can’t afford to go somewhere other than Apple because they risk alienating their audiences.

‘It’s about negotiating leverage for creators’ and individual artists having negotiating power. Being locked-in to distribution does not simply result in a lack of copy. This is a notion promulgated by the Magic Bean Vendors, who can be found everywhere, from DRM to the war on terror. They are organisations that create a problem, which everyone then needs to be protected from. They make obstacle courses in order to remove obstacles (hence, the purpose for their existence).

Read the rest of the write-up over at Meanland.

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