Sci-fi author and digital rights activist Cory Doctorow talks about a coming ‘war on general purpose computing’, which could have far reaching consequences for our society.
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The coming war on general purpose computing - Future Tense - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
This week, Tim speaks with his childhood friend Cory Doctorow, who is digital rights activist, the co-editor of BoingBoing, and the author of several science fiction novels, including Little Brother and Homeland. Cory discusses why he writes for young adults, the state of copyright law, and more.
Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) is a essayist, novelist, blogger, and co-editor of BoingBoing, and he is exhausting. The man is a production machine, churning out excellent book after excellent book as if writing were a job instead of something to agonize and procrastinate over. As of this writing, his latest books are Homeland and Pirate Cinema, and, with Charlie Stross, he wrote Rapture of the Nerds. Cory has also long been an advocate for the personal ownership of culture, demanding corporations and governments keep their hands off what we make and their noses out of our individual use and modification of media and hardware. To that end, he has fought endless wars against restrictive legislation.
Websites we mention: Cory worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit that defends individual rights and freedoms. Cory was part of the Humble Ebook Bundle, which put together several science fiction and fantasy books into a single name-your-price bundle in which the buyer chose how much of their payment went to authors and how much to three charities. Amazon has a price-matching arrangement when authors pick a 70%-royalty arrangement that allows them to match the lowest ebook price anywhere on the Net for any book they sell for Kindle. BookScan tracks retail sales through integration with point-of-sale and online sales systems. My father and I run Books & Writers, a book-rank tracking service. Amazon has provided BookScan data to authors who register with them. At least one book distributor in 1996 was relying on IBM’s PROFS on a mainframe. Cory documented in painstaking detail how his With a Little Help story collection was funded and produced. Artist friends created a set of four covers for print editions so that one could choose among them. The book was designed by John D. Berry, a friend of mine and one of the world’s best typographers. (His wife is Eileen Gunn, a science-friend and incubator of science-fiction writers.) There’s a difference between the barter economy and the gift economy, and Cory explains the distinction. Andy Baio, who is part of the life’s blood of creativity on the Internet, released Kind of Bloop, a collection of 8-bit music, that had an homage of a famous Miles Davis photo as part of the cover. Despite it rather obviously being precisely within the reasonable confines of transformative work, it would have required exensive litigation. Andy settled to avoid destroying his family finances. The partly crowdfunded movie Stripped had a second round of money raising to cover the clearance rights for some of the copyrighted material the filmmakers wanted to include. Cory pointed out that the Stanford Center for Internet and Society can help a filmmaker who wants to assert fair-use rights over material obtain the errors and omissions insurance required to have a film shown in a theater and released in other ways. Ursula K. LeGuin likely wouldn’t have a found a publisher who would have been willing to let her quote from The Beatles’ “A Little Help from My Friends” today, a critical component of her The Lathe of Heaven. In fact, the 1980 PBS movie of the book couldn’t be re-released for many years because of both negotiating with the original cast and crew, and obtaining rights. The Beatles’ original version of the song was replaced with a cover in the re-release. (Cory notes that LeGuin doesn’t like fair use of her own work.) Aereo is a Barry Diller-controlled company that is selling access to tiny HDTV antennas over the Internet to skirt rules about re-broadcasting. It’s clever. So clever that a dissenting judge in an appeals panel was rather unhappy about it. Fox filed takedown notices under the DMCA for Cory’s book Homeland on various sites asserting it was the rightsholder, as opposed to being the rightsholder for its TV series Homeland. Jaron Lanier once told tales of virtual-reality goggles and the future. He now tells different stories. The Infocom Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) game may still be played. The Incomparable podcast did an episode on Infocom games. Sony once infected computers with a rootkit to manage copy protection for its music CDs. The software hid itself and degraded Windows, and it took a long while for Sony to tell the truth and make amends. Defibrillators can be easily hacked. The Analog Reconversion Discussion Group was formed to plug the “analog hole,” which was a way to copy digital playback through an analog output. Scott Turow wrote a spectacularly uninformed and self-serving Op-Ed in the New York Times that conflated a number of different factors, mostly specious and relatively absurd, about how authors were getting a squeeze on royalties. The issue at hand was the Supreme Court allowing the importation of foreign editions of books. Such editions may be sold cheaply abroad, but also are often made more cheaply and thus not as appealing to American buyers. Turow is head of the Author’s Guild, which purports to speak for all authors, but only a tiny number of writers belong relative to all published authors. (I used to.) The Registrar of Copyrights may approve temporary and limited exemptions to the DMCA, but these are reviewed every three years. RealDVD got pulled from the market by RealNetworks in order to avoid disturbing studio partners. Kaleidescape makes servers that let users rip CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray and then space shift them around a house. “No, that’s just perfectly normal paranoia, everyone in the universe has that.” Many people who are competent suffer from Imposter Syndrome. A comic came out after Cory and I spoke about the day jobs of poets.
His latest Young Adult novel is sure to inspire, thanks to its alluring tale of tech-savvy anarchist runaways who attempt to take on the entertainment industry.
This week’s edition of the podcast is dedicated to the Sense About Science Lecture 2013, given by the sci-fi writer and web activist Cory Doctorow.
Cory’s lecture was entitled "We get to choose: How to demand an internet that sets us free" and was delivered to an invited audience at The Institution of Engineering and Technology on 13 May.
To find out more about Cory Doctorow’s writings go to his website craphound.com.
Back in June, I moderated a panel at the 2011 Subtle Technologies Festival. It was called How can we build a city that thinks like the web?, and included Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing), Mark Surman (Mozilla) and Sara Diamond (OCAD University). This week, on my CBC tech podcast, I’m really pleased to be able to play the full (1 hour ) panel.
Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow talk with Mitch Wagner from Internet Evolution about their forthcoming book, Rapture of the Nerds.
Who governs digital trust?
Doctorow framed the question this way: "Computers are everywhere. They are now something we put our whole bodies into—-airplanes, cars—-and something we put into our bodies—-pacemakers, cochlear implants. They HAVE to be trustworthy."
Sometimes humans are not so trustworthy, and programs may override you: "I can’t let you do that, Dave." (Reference to the self-protective insane computer Hal in Kubrick’s film "2001." That time the human was more trustworthy than the computer.) Who decides who can override whom?
The core issues for Doctorow come down to Human Rights versus Property Rights, Lockdown versus Certainty, and Owners versus mere Users.
Apple computers such as the iPhone are locked down—-it lets you run only what Apple trusts. Android phones let you run only what you trust. Doctorow has changed his mind in favor of a foundational computer device called the "Trusted Platform Module" (TPM) which provides secure crypto, remote attestation, and sealed storage. He sees it as a crucial "nub of secure certainty" in your machine.
If it’s your machine, you rule it. It‘s a Human Right: your computer should not be overridable. And a Property Right: "you own what you buy, even if it what you do with it pisses off the vendor." That’s clear when the Owner and the User are the same person. What about when they’re not?
There are systems where we really want the authorities to rule—-airplanes, nuclear reactors, probably self-driving cars ("as a species we are terrible drivers.") The firmware in those machines should be inviolable by users and outside attackers. But the power of Owners over Users can be deeply troubling, such as in matters of surveillance. There are powers that want full data on what Users are up to—-governments, companies, schools, parents. Behind your company computer is the IT department and the people they report to. They want to know all about your email and your web activities, and there is reason for that. But we need to contemplate the "total and terrifying power of Owners over Users."
Recognizing that we are necessarily transitory Users of many systems, such as everything involving Cloud computing or storage, Doctorow favors keeping your own box with its own processors and storage. He strongly favors the democratization and wide distribution of expertise. As a Fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who co-sponsored the talk) he supports public defense of freedom in every sort of digital rights issue.
"The potential for abuse in the computer world is large," Doctorow concluded. "It will keep getting larger."
Cory Doctorow is a sci-fi author, hero of the open source and creative commons movements, and co-founder of boingboing.net.
In this exclusive event, Cory travels to Vivid Sydney from London to deliver a keynote on new challenges and frontiers for creators and consumers – asking us to question who we give our rights to - and how creators can best take advantage of a more connected world.
Following his keynote address, Cory joins anthropologist and Intel fellow Genevieve Bell, for a conversation exploring the future of culture, behaviour and technology, and why sharing and copying matters to makers.
Cory Doctorow’s talk at the 28c3.
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