Yesterday, I took issue with Cory Doctorow’s “dandelion” theory. Cory says: “Dandelions and artists have a lot in common in the age of the Internet.” He believes that spreading your digital content for free across the Internet like zillions of dandelion seeds scattered by the winds helps sales of physical products. It seems to work for him. However, I said: “Now, about how Cory’s marketing advice applies to most creative people and the comic book business—it doesn’t. Or I don’t see how. Maybe he’ll set me straight….”
Maybe he already has.
Check out these passages from his book CONTENT – Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future:
“Technology giveth and technology taketh away.”
Here’s one of his examples:
“When radio and records were invented, they were pretty bad news for the performers of the day. Live performance demanded charisma, the ability to really put on a magnetic show in front of a crowd. It didn't matter how technically accomplished you were: if you stood like a statue on stage, no one wanted to see you do your thing. On the other hand, you succeeded as a mediocre player, provided you attacked your performance with a lot of brio.
“Radio was clearly good news for musicians — lots more musicians were able to make lots more music, reaching lots more people and making lots more money. It turned performance into an industry, which is what happens when you add technology to art. But it was terrible news for charismatics. It put them out on the street, stuck them with flipping burgers and driving taxis. They knew it, too. Performers lobbied to have the Marconi radio banned, to send Marconi back to the drawing board, charged with inventing a radio they could charge admission to. ‘We're charismatics, we do something as old and holy as the first story told before the first fire in the first cave. What right have you to insist that we should become mere clerks, working in an obscure back-room, leaving you to commune with our audiences on our behalf?’
“Technology giveth and technology taketh away. Seventy years later, Napster showed us that, as William Gibson noted, ‘We may be at the end of the brief period during which it is possible to charge for recorded music.’ Surely we're at the end of the period where it's possible to exclude those who don't wish to pay. Every song released can be downloaded gratis from a peer-to-peer network (and will shortly get easier to download, as hard-drive price/performance curves take us to a place where all the music ever recorded will fit on a disposable pocket-drive that you can just walk over to a friend's place and copy).”
So…maybe we comic book creators are the new vaudevillians. Technology hath taken away from us. Other media, more suited to the Digital Age have eclipsed us, left us in the dust. It seems difficult to impossible to exclude those who don’t wish to pay. So, we’re going to be out on the street, flipping burgers and driving taxis.
There are ways we might yet pull survival from the jaws of technology.
But first, some other, relevant techno-tectonic upheavals.
DRM and SOPA
Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is explained thus by Wikipedia:
“Digital rights management (DRM) is a class of access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content and devices after sale. DRM is any technology that inhibits uses of digital content that are not desired or intended by the content provider. Copy protection which can be circumvented without modifying the file or device, such as serial numbers or keyfiles are not generally considered to be DRM. DRM also includes specific instances of digital works or devices. Companies such as Amazon, AOL, Apple Inc., the BBC, Microsoft and Sony use digital rights management. In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in the United States to impose criminal penalties on those who make available technologies whose primary purpose and function is to circumvent content protection technologies.The use of digital rights management is controversial. Content providers claim that DRM is necessary to fight copyright infringement online and that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control or ensure continued revenue streams. Those opposed to DRM contend there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement, arguing instead that it serves only to inconvenience legitimate customers, and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition. Further, works can become permanently inaccessible if the DRM scheme changes or if the service is discontinued. Proponents argue that digital locks should be considered necessary to prevent "intellectual property" from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen.Digital locks placed in accordance with DRM policies can also restrict users from doing something perfectly legal, such as making backup copies of CDs or DVDs, lending materials out through a library, accessing works in the public domain, or using copyrighted materials for research and education under fair use laws. Some opponents, such as the Free Software Foundation (FSF) through its Defective by Design campaign, maintain that the use of the word "rights" is misleading and suggest that people instead use the term "digital restrictions management". Their position is that copyright holders are restricting the use of material in ways that are beyond the scope of existing copyright laws, and should not be covered by future laws. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the FSF consider the use of DRM systems to be anti-competitive practice. ”
DRM? Cory is ag’in it.
Cory explains his position in CONTENT, in which he publishes the text of a talk given to Microsoft’s Research Group in 2004 and a few subsequent essays. Start on page eight. He says:
1. That DRM systems don't work
(They’re easily thwarted or circumvented.)
2. That DRM systems are bad for society
(Honest content buyers trying to make legitimate use of content, like personal back-up copies, are the only ones thwarted by DRM, which bad guys easily circumvent. So, honest users eventually go to the bad guys for their needs.)
3. That DRM systems are bad for business
(It engenders “closed hardware interfaces,” i.e. copyright holders’ content can only be accessed on their, or approved devices like their proprietary DVD players or audio devices. The costs of anti-competition drive up prices tremendously.)
4. That DRM systems are bad for artists
(They’re good for big companies not individuals so much, he says, but I don’t really get why he thinks they’re not good for individuals. I’m guessing here—but it seems that he’s saying that no DRM will cause big media to develop new business models and individual creators will be better off because in an unrestricted digital environment there will be “wider reach” and “bigger pies.”
5. That DRM is a bad business-move for MSFT (Microsoft)
(Microsoft should forsake DRM, ignore current copyright law and make capable devices that can “play everyone’s records.”)
The above parentheticals are all my nutshell summaries of the thoughtful and well-explained positions Cory takes. I apologize if I have mischaracterized them. Please read what he says.
CONTENT PDF Download
CONTENT on Amazon
I am not educated enough on the subject of DRM to pontificate. I will say this, though. Cory’s descriptions of the Draconian measures being taken (or proposed) by Amazon, AOL, Apple, the BBC, Microsoft, Sony and others, and the consequences thereof, is chilling.
The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, is a law under consideration by the U.S. Congress that is intended to help law enforcement fight online intellectual property theft.
SOPA? Cory is ag’in it.
His position is well-explained here:
Says Cory, SOPA is censorship, simple as that. And it puts power and control not in the hands of the government, but in the hands of media giants like Disney, Viacom, the Motion Picture Association of America, the American Association of Publishers and the Recording Industry Association of America, any one or any member of which could, with a complaint, shut down any infringer “without due process” and with it any site that so much as had a link to an infringing site.
Sounds scary. This blog would be toast for sure.
|Cory Doctorow. photo by Jonathan Worth, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0|
NEXT: The Fate That Awaits