Cory Doctorow on Copyright

24 November 2009

David Weinberger interviews Cory Doctorow on copyright and future of books in this podcast:

http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediaberkman/2009/11/19/radio-berkman-137-cory-doctorow-in-defense-of-%C2%A9/

I pretty much agree with much of what Cory says. I have to admit, though, that I heard the interview at the end of long work day when my mind was already powering down, so I didn’t catch all the subtleties of what was said. Put your thinking caps on and have a listen for yourself.

I’ve had a passive interest in copyright, in general, for quite some time now. One point that Cory hints at, but doesn’t say explicitely, is that copyright law isn’t there to just protect the rights of the creator of a work. It also protects the public’s right to consume and use the copyrighted work. This is generally referred to as fair use. Of course, this isn’t to say anyone can redistribute a work freely as they wish, such as with a digital copy of book online. But it you purchase a work–digital or not–you should be the owner of that work. That’s fair.

Here’s a brief summary of the interview from Daniel Dennis Jones, the producer of the podcase at the Berkman Center:

While you’ll probably be able to find Makers, and Cory’s other books, at the most popular bookstores in the nation – you can also find most of his novels and non fictions books on the web as a free digital download – not only free as in beer, but under a creative commons license so you can feel free to download, remix, and redistribute! While some in the industry say free downloads kill profits, encourage piracy, and destroy respect for copyright – Cory effectively says, bring it on!

So it may have caught some of Cory’s followers by surprise when he came out in support of copyright at the National Reading Summit in Toronto last week. Wait, was he actually supporting the arguments of publishers who fear the death of their industry at the hands of millions of file sharing bibliophiles?

But while many in the publishing industry might argue for copyright restrictions to protect the future of the book from download happy readers, Cory is actually arguing for copyright as a means of protecting the existence of books from the hands of overly litigious publishers.

There is a distinction, he says, between the kind of licensing that publishers use to prevent readers from sharing, copying, or even permanently owning a text – and theview of copyright that would actually safeguard the rights of the reader. And what we learn from the publishing industry in this space can be used in film, music, software, and any other kind of digital media.

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