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Nice To Tweet You: An interview with Cory Doctorow

September 7th, 2011

Nice To Tweet You

The AGO’s ‘Nice To Tweet You’ series connects our Twitter followers with artists, curators, speakers and experts. We tell you who’s in the hot seat and then you are able to submit your questions to us via Twitter @agoToronto using the #NTTY hashtag.

Our interviewee this week is Boing Boing co-founder Cory Doctorow. As well as founding one of the web’s most insightful and entertaining sites, Cory is also a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger. Thank you so much to everyone that submitted questions – here is what Cory had to say:

Is CC sufficient to fix the problems with copyright? Should solutions build upon copyright or is an overhaul necessary?
I think you’ve got an OR gate where you want an AND gate. CC isn’t sufficient to solve copyright’s problems — look at all the fans under threat of lawsuit, and all the musicians and other artists who conspicuously fail to benefit from those lawsuits. But CC is an important instrumental and strategic tool — it helps creators “live as though it were the first days of a better nation”; and it establishes facts in evidence that there is no universal consensus that “all rights reserved” is what every artist wants or needs.

You seem optimistic about the the future freedom and creativity? Is that because of the technology, or humanity itself?
 I’m a pessimist because I think things could get very bad if we don’t do something. I’m an optimist because I believe that technology makes it easier than ever for people to work together to get stuff done.

How can copyright serve as an incentive to creativity?
I think that there’s a long continuum of motives and prerequisites for creativity. Some people have a creation within them that can only see the light of day in the absence of broad, automatic copyright (you could never produce the Beastie Boys’ PAUL’S BOUTIQUE in today’s copyright regime, for example). Some works require enormous cash investment and the bulk of investors want expansive, exclusive rights before they stump up cash.

It seems to me that the trick is to formulate cultural policy that allows the greatest diversity of expressions and creators. So, for example, we could fix a formula for pricing music samples:

Gross revenue / (Number of seconds in song/number of seconds in sample/number of other samples layered over that sample)

(or some variation thereupon)

That would make it possible to sample gratis if you have no expectation of income, would pay artists (not lawyers), and would allow Paul’s Boutique to be made today without bankrupting the band. Or we might decide that the best solution is to make sampling preemptively fair dealing (analogous to the decision to exempt fashion from exclusive rights). Determining the right answer is something that we could arrive at through evidence: go and survey a lot of musicians, try a small-scale experiment, see what happens, refine as you go.

But that requires copyright to be viewed as a mere instrument of policy, not an inherent right — that’s something pretty controversial at the moment. But the instrumental view of copyright is at the core of all copyright solutions.

With the societal recognition in recent years that (musical) artists deserve compensation for users who illegally download their music, are we making progress in the public discussion on internet copyright? (as it pertains to creative industries?)
Not that I can see. I think Charlie Angus feinted in the right direction, but then lost the right path. We have societies that offer blanket licenses to radio stations and live venues enabling them to play any music they want. Why not offer ISPs similar (opt-in) licenses that legalize their users downloading of any music they can find, from any source, using any protocol? That’d pay artists, legalize fans, and get us all on the same side. We’d have thorny problems (the analytics and division of income), but these are implementation details. Maybe we could prototype a good implementation by ripping apart our current collectives, holding them to account for their vast administrative overheads and secretive policies on expenditures, and reinvent them as the transparent, Internet-era institutions we need today.

In your opinion, how does Canada stack up against other nations’ efforts in the area of internet copyright?
Pretty poor. C-32 is proof positive that if the USA jumped off the CN Tower, Canada would do it too. James Moore and Tony Clement’s account of why we need the same disastrous  WIPO-plus protection for DRM that the US has been drowning in since 1998 was an incoherent mumble that basically came out as “The US Trade Rep demands it, and we haven’t the guts to stand up to him.”

Internet copyright is one of those issues that seems to catch policymakers’ attention for a while, and then it drops off of their radar.  What needs to happen to keep this issue front and centre in their minds?
I think we need to stop talking about copyright and start talking about Internet policy. You can’t make an Internet copyright law without making a law that touches on all the other stuff we do with the net: civics, politics, family life, friendship, health, employment, education. Let’s stop pretending there’s an “Internet copyright policy” that stands distinct from Internet policy, period.

Cory Doctorow is at the AGO on Wednesday, September 14 to give a talk,  ‘Can creativity and freedom peacefully co-exist in the Internet age?’
Wednesday, September 14, 7-8:30 pm
Weston Family Learning Centre

To find out more about the interview please contact Holly Knowlman via email, Twitter or call 416 979 6660 (ext 426)

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