June 09, 2007

Cory Doctorow Speaks Out on Piracy, Copyright Reform and the Futility of DRM

Cory Doctorow, copyright activist, science fiction author and, recently spoke at Authors@Google. He passionately about the need to change copyright and how the USA is pressuring other countries who want to trade with them to adopt similar copyright policies that would ban music downloading.

Here are just a few bits and pieces from his talk which is definitely worth a listen.

Cory takes a broad look at copyright in the Information Age and government policies and economic strategies that are hurting the development of technology and cultural expression.

Cory spells out why trying to control bits via technologies like DRM(Digital Rights Management) is not only counter intuitive but would have disastrous effects on promoting cultural expression and new created works, one of the primary reasons for copyright.

DRM Pipedreams - Making Water Less Wet

So we're chasing an impossibility here. The idea is that we will have a world in which bits can be widely copied with permission and can't be copied at all without permission.

And those of you with a technical background, and I assume that is all of you, know that this is an impossibility. Bruce Schneier says "making bits harder to copy is like making water that's less wet". There is no future in which bits get progressively harder to copy. Indeed if bits did get harder to copy, it would be alarming. It would mean some of our critical infrastructure had stopped working ... Barring nuclear catastrophe, from here on in, bits only get easy to copy. And yet we're chasing a future where bits get progressively harder to copy.

Why DRM is Broken In Minutes for Pennies

We know that DRM doesn't work for some security basic reasons. If you deliver to a attacker, the cypher text -- the cypher and the key -- and rely on the attacker not combining those except under circumstances as you dictate, you are living in a fool's paradise. ... This is why these things take years and millions to develop and are broken in minutes and for pennies by kids. Right, not because the engineers that develop them are stupid, but because they are chasing a fool's errand.

Ideological Myths vs. Reality

It has the reek of Lysenkoism, right, that was science that dominated the Soviet Union where ideology trumped physical observable objective reality. So the ideology predicts that wheat will grow in this field. And anyone who points out there is nothing but stubble in that field goes to jail. And what you end up with is famine, not wheat.

How Can Copyright Be Fixed?

Cory was asked in Q & A how could copyright fixed?

He mentions several interesting proposals for revisions including one that he found particularly interesting in a recent paper: On Copyright's Authorship Policy, by Tim Wu. The nature of current copyright policy is not neutral in its treatment of authors and creators. Some author's work is lawful and other author's work is not. Tim Wu identifies that fact that copyrights are so aggregated in the hands of few companies in some industries, that it's easy for them to hold out on requests for use to individuals not with another major company for example. Wu proposes that we need to diversify decision making process in copyright so beyond the label or publisher. The creator would have an inalienable right to allow someone use the work. According to Cory, "it's the kind of answer that only that a copyright professor can love."

Two Sets of Rules Needed to Govern Copyright: The Cultural and Commercial

Cory also suggests that we should look a potential harder way to reform copyright, but one that is more useful. He recommends that we think about bifurcation of copyright between rules that govern cultural use and rules that govern commercial use.

For example, we aren't used to being regulated for the songs that we sing at the bar, around the campfire, or fan fiction that we write, or the things we do in our living room. The reality was that enforcement cost was too high, so no one did it. Most of us just saw these activities as "legal". If we'd asked a lawyer we would have found out that they weren't.

But when we post our person to person cultural transactions online and they become searchable. They are suddenly imported into the sphere of commerce. These activities can be easily discovered and the lower cost of enforcement means that solutions for commercial / trade are being applied to this personal/cultural realm.

Cory proposes that "we're going to have a set of rules that govern people do among themselves and we're going to have another set of rules that what govern what companies do amongst themselves."

He notes that it's hard to make this happen but Creative Commons is going further than others is showing another set of norms for cultural activity.

I don't think it's unreasonable for a movie studio to have to pay another movie studio to license one of their characters, I just think it is unreasonable for that same movie studio to go to you and say you can't paint it on your nursery room wall.

More notes and commentary on his presentation:

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