In short: read the book. THE WHOLE BOOK.
Secret confession: if a book starts with anything other than CHAPTER ONE, I don’t read it. I ignore forwards, introduction, little quotes in italics… I didn’t even read the Lord of the Rings prologue until the 4th time around (which was really a good thing because WHY DID THEY NOT HAVE SPOILER ALERTS IN 1954?!) Anyway…
Cory Doctorow got me to read a forward.
Two forwards, actually, and an introduction. I couldn’t help it. Written by Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer, they turned this book into possibly my favorite collection of people ever. If only they’d added one more defiant, geeky internet hero–OH WAIT, THE AUDIOBOOK IS READ BY WIL WHEATON.
Information feels more like a collaboration, in part because Doctorow brought other titans of the internet in on it too. Part history primer, part manifesto, part how-to manual, this isn’t just one guy’s ramblings. It’s the voice of a growing culture – wait, no, a generation – of creators who are embracing and fighting to protect their new home: the evolving, digital landscape.
Echoing so many voices of the digital generation, Doctorow’s three Laws for the Internet Age will ring so, so true for many netizens:
1. “If someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you, and doesn’t give you the key, that lock is NOT there for your benefit.”
Doctorow blasts apart the narrative of so-called “copy protection” (which is neither copy-proof nor protective,) aka DRM. With example after example, from jail broken iPhones to Sony rootkits, he argues something that many of us know intuitively from growing up online: that attempts to stop users from using their own devices have failed miserably at great cost, and without being even remotely beneficial to creators.
It is something that is glaringly obvious to many of us – not only through our own anecdotal experiences, but evidenced through a history of failure and harm. Doctorow First Law is a powerful reminder that trusting companies with the keys to our digital houses, puts us – and our creative work – at risk.
2. “Fame won’t make you rich, but you can’t get paid without it.”
This is his version of the ubiquitous Tim O’Reilly quote: Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy. Doctorow reminds us of the reality of making a living with creative work: it’s HARD. (True story.)
Copyright maximalists (read: the SOPA crowd, DRM proponents, industry lobbyists, MPAA lawyers…) love to reminisce about the Good Old Days before the internet when a copy was hard to make and people were paid living wages for their art. But they forget that people making living wages for their art have always constituted a minuscule, minuscule number. Most people who make things never even got in the door, let alone signed a contract that covered beer money, let alone made a living wage.
The internet – a free internet – which opens up the channels to ALL creators, which powers the connection between people who create things and people who like things, and which multiplies the channels through which art can be spread, appreciated, and supported is the biggest boon to creators since the printing press. Because if people don’t know who you are, they can’t pay you.
3. “Information doesn’t want to be free. People do.”
This is the crux of this book and perhaps of the entire freedom-on-the-internet debate. This book, this fight, this generation’s zeitgeist, is NOT about information, it’s about the people who use it.
So much of our lives are conducted online that without a free digital life, we suffer: we are less free. Protecting the right to communicate freely online is imperative, not because of some lofty duty to the rights of data to flourish. It is imperative because of the need of people to communicate in order to live a full and free life. When we can point to a file, a site, a person and delete them from the internet or decide that their devices need monitoring and control, we impair their ability to live a full and participatory life in the twenty first century.
Living under surveillance and censorship, we are not free – a fact made chillingly clear when Doctorow points to hardline copyright proponents holding up countries like China and Russia as models for how the internet should be run. It is a stark warning that a restrictive internet policy is not actually about the latest Game of Thrones episode to be liberated by bittorrent. It’s about us as people, and how we are to live under such policy, and what we have to lose.
And do we creators really need an authoritarian model for the internet to practice our art?
No. No we don’t.
I love this book…
Information reminds me of the infamous Rats in the Slush Pile, an essay about just how much it sucks to be a creator trying to make in this (or any) world. But Information is hopeful where Rats is depressing. While reminding us that getting rich making art is like winning the lottery, Cory Doctorow also celebrates the many, many tools we have to fight the odds in the Internet Age.
We can protect these valuable assets, or we can shutter them out of fear.
Information asserts – truly, I think – that the interests of artists are neither separate nor above the interests of people. Making a living from art is hard, but only through protecting our right to communicate freely can we protect our art. Censorship and control won’t help us to be heard. Preserving a free and open internet for all will preserve a free and open world for artists too.
The message to the dinosaurs – the DRM proponents, the censors, and the authoritarians and the lobbyists – is clear: get out of our fucking way, and let us flourish on the internet!