Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pay No Attention to the Man in Front of the Curtain

Yesterday Cory Doctorow came to UCI to speak about "Happy Meal Toys versus Copyright: How America Chose Hollywood and Wal-Mart--and why it's doomed us, and how we might survive anyway." (Podcast now here.) It was a talk designed to foster more campus activism about digital rights. In addition to consciousness-raising about the hidden pathology of America's imbalance of trade, Doctorow tried to educate students about two major pre-histories through which to understand the Digital Millennium Copyright Act: one from the Clinton administration and its well-placed software and entertainment lobbyists who also shaped international intellectual property treaties and one from the era of the Soviet Iron Curtain. Doctorow made a clear analogy between the ubiquitous practice of black marketeering in Stalinist Russia and the equally widespread behavior of peer-to-peer file-sharing of copyrighted content and argued that it would be easy to suppress political speech by creating an environment of fear in which everyone would be a criminal. At one point he asked for a show of hands to indicate if there was anyone in the audience who hadn't ever infringed copyright. Needless to say there was not a single hand. Doctorow also nicely pointed out the hypocrisy of a recording industry that encourages young people to be "gangstas" but acts moralistic if they turn out to be thieves. He argued that this was part of a larger "War on the Internet," which he predicted would be consigned to the same fate as other "doomed wars on abstract nouns."

Doctorow has run a few pieces that originally appeared here in Virtualpolitik in his mega-blog BoingBoing. I must say, because of this post and this subsequent one, I received more hate mail from scoutmasters than I would have ever thought possible. I also received queries from a few eagle scouts who wanted to see a digital activism patch and some outdoorsy fashion enthusiasts who just wanted to make prototypes of the patches.

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