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Liveblogging from the AGO: Cory Doctorow

September 14th, 2011

Tonight at the AGO Cory Doctorow joins us in the Weston Family Learning Centre to talk about freedom, creativity and copyright in the age of the Internet. I’ll be liveblogging the event, which starts at 7pm, so if you couldn’t make it out you can still see what he has to say. – Holly Knowlman, Internet & Social Media Content Coordinator

6:41pm This is the first talk we’ve held in our brand new Weston Family Learning Centre. Great to see the space filling up, think we’re headed for a full house.

6:59pm Cory is in the room.

7:00pm Opening remarks from Kelly McKinley, Director of Education. ‘It’s a double thrill bill for me tonight – the first public lecture in the new Weston Family Learning Centre.. and to have Cory Doctorow here tonight. We’re delighted he’s taken time out of his holiday to join us.

7.03pm Entertainment Weekly called (Cory Doctorow) the William Gibson of our generation. Cory will talk for about an hour followed by a Q&A session.

7:04 pm: Cory Doctorow takes the stage.

“There’s a boring, polarizing debate around copyright. Copyright is good vs copyright is bad. I think this is an incredibly unfruitful way of approaching the subject… we should be asking which rules give us the outcome that we’re hoping for.”


“Everything we do in the digital age involves copies. Millions of copies. Copy is something that happens in the digital age every time you click a mouse… so the stakes have never been higher becasue it affects everything we do all day long.”

“So what should copyright do? It should serve as an incentive to creativity. A good copyright system is one which serves creatives.”

7.08pm – Cory is talking about the history of copyright law in relation to the Internet.

“The American govt passed a law which stated that breaking a digital lock was unlawful, no matter the reason. If you’re a user of creative work things like backing up and copying were no longer allowed if you had to break a digital lock to do so.”

“Under this new system of copyright, the people who created the locks had more rights than the people who created the work in the first place.”

7:10pm Cory is talking about iTunes as an example.

“For example, if you create an audiobook and you go to iTunes, they’ll tell you that you need to put a digital lock on the book. This means you can’t grant your users permission to follow you to a new system if you want to work with a competitor.”


“This becomes copyright the friend of a platform owner, not the friend of the creator.”

7.15pm Cory is talking about how Apple uses this law to its advantage to prevent creatives and users from leaving its platform. The more popular Apple gets, the more difficult it becomes for competitors to offer an alternative.

“The alternative is a law that states it’s illegal to break a digital lock to break the law… but otherwise is fine.”

7:17pm Cory is now talking about C32, the Canadian Copyright law.

“It’s been 15 years since they got this so wrong. You would’ve thought other governments would be lining up to get this right. But no. More than a decade later it’s inexcusably stupid to repeat these mistakes, but it’s happening.”

7:20 Cory asks:  Why doesn’t DRM work?

“DRM doesn’t work because if you want to make a system that stops a user from copying a file, you need to create a device that can ‘hide’ a function from its user. You have to ensure that everyone, from the dumbest person in the world to the smartest, can’t break it.”

“Doctorow’s first law: When someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you, it’s not there for your benefit.”

“Doctorow’s second law: Fame doesn’t guarantee fortune, but noone ever got rich from being unknown.”

7:23pm Cory is talking about Tim O’Reilly, who coined the term ‘web.20’ and said ‘for most artists the problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.’

“It’s not true that if you’re famous you’ll necessarily be rich. Fame is nice but you can’t eat it. You can’t exchange it for a ride on the subway to the AGO. But everyone who is successful creatively has fame. If the people who love your stuff don’t know that it exists, then they won’t pay you for it.’

7.26 “It’s never been easier to put your work in the hands of someone who wants your work. Videogames for example – we can deliver content to browsers, tablets, phones through DIY shopping carts or large carriers.”

“Things like blogging and Twitter, and low cost copying, make it easier to get your work to audiences that care about it. It’s easier to enter distribution channels than ever before – this means there are more creators than ever and more people than ever who want to view your work.”

7.28pm “Governments are trying to get intermediaries, like YouTube, to be more responsible for the content. They think that sites used by pirates should be held responsible for piracy.”

“We need intermediaries to bear the cost of production and distribution – there is no such thing as a substantial creative endeavour which doesn’t involve exchanging large volumes of files between people.”


“Doctorows Third Law: Information doesn’t want to be free, people do.”

“We want to be free to use networks that don’t spy on us in case we’re infringing copyright. We want to be free to communicate privately without worrying that our communications are going to be made public.”

Cory is now talking about the 3DS: “It has one enormous flaw in the way it tries to stop you pirating games. Every time you’re near a network it connects to it and checks for a new operating system update, even if you don’t want it to. If you’ve jailbroken your device it will detect this and render it inoperable.”


“I’m a science fiction novelist… and there’s one thing I really dislike about sci-fi movies. It’s the self-destructing rocket ship. Whenever I see that I think, that would be a better ship if it wasn’t designed to explode. I think devices would be better if they weren’t built from the ground up to let spyware/governments see what we’re doing.”


“‘The UN calls Internet access a human right. My wife looked at what happened when people in the poorest, most vulnerable parts of UK society had Internet access. They had better nutrition, more pocket money because they could pay bills online, their kids had better grades, more class mobility. The Internet improved their lives. And we’re talking about taking this away from people who have infringed on copyright, the people that live with people who have been accused of infringing on copyright etc.”


“I predict that everything you do in the physical world involves some online component. Tomorrow it will REQUIRE an online component. I believe we can make copyright law that will pay artists and look at the reality of the technology around us without the absurdities that currently exist.”

“I want to be free more than I want to be a writer. I want my daughter, my country, our future to be free. If the only way to create copyright is with devices that spy on us, I’m going to go and get a real job.”

7:46pm Q&A from the audience
Q: How can we capture the public’s imagination around these issues?
A: “Science fiction gives us a narrative to make real some of the very abstract concerns about technology affects our lives. Imagine if you want to explain surveillance… Orwell’s 1984 has given us Orwellian, the way we feel when a camera looks at us.”

Q: What can we do to stop Bill C32 in Canada?
A: “There’s a legal clinic at the university of Ottowa which is coordinating a grass roots response to the bill. There’s room inside the Tory party to square opposition to this bill ideologically….”

Q: Alot of the rhetoric around copyright is that it protects creators. What words can be used to make sure that groups that are supposed to protect creators aren’t perpetuating these ideas.
A: “Every debate is a balance between fact and emotion. There’s a lack of evidence that DRM makes money for creatives. It’s harder to capture the emotional argument.”

Q: What prevents us from stealing physical items?
A: “I think it’s a social contract. People are mostly good. But I don’t think copying falls into this contract – people copy music that they love.”

Q: We all agree that in the future copying will become easier. But here and now we’re dealing with changing laws – what’s a best case scenario for the future of copyright law?
Kevin Kelly from Wired aruged that there’s a certain amount of inevitability with technology. I think this can be stopped with weird and crazy rules. I worry that if we don’t do something, things could get very bad indeed. But I hope that if we do do something, things could be better. I think that defines activism.

That’s the end of Cory Doctorow’s talk, we hope you’ve enjoyed tuning in at home. Please leave your comments, questions and suggestions underneath – we’d love to hear what you think!

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