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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology,

Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the


Cory Doctorow

copy @ craphound.com/content
Copyright © Cory Doctorow, 2008.;
License: This entire work (with the ex-
ception of the introduction by John Perry
Barlow) is copyright 2008 by Cory Doc-
torow and released under the terms of
a Creative Commons US Attribution-
NonCommercial-ShareAlike license
nc-sa/3.0/us/). Some Rights Reserved.
The introduction is copyright 2008 by John
Perry Barlow and released under the terms
of a Creative Commons US Attribution-
NonCommercial-ShareAlike license
sa/3.0/us/). Some Rights Reserved.

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Contents 4. Happy Meal Toys versus Copy-

right: How America chose
Hollywood and Wal-Mart, and
CONTENT - Selected Essays on Tech- why it's doomed us, and how
nology, Creativity, Copyright and the we might survive anyway . . . 47
Future of the Future, 5. Why Is Hollywood Making A Se-
Cory Doctorow 1 quel To The Napster Wars? . . 53
A word about this downloadable file: 1 6. You DO Like Reading Off a Com-
Publication history and acknowledg- puter Screen . . . . . . . . . . 59
ments: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 7. How Do You Protect Artists? . . . 63
Dedication: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
8. It's the Information Economy, Stupid 66
1. Introduction by John Perry Barlow 5
9. Downloads Give Amazon Jungle
2. Microsoft Research DRM Talk . . 13
Fever . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
1. DRM systems don't work . 14
10. What's the Most Important Right
2. DRM systems are bad for
Creators Have? . . . . . . . . . 71
society . . . . . . . . . 17
3. DRM systems are bad for biz 23 11. Giving it Away . . . . . . . . . . 75
4. DRM systems are bad for 12. Science Fiction is the Only
artists . . . . . . . . . 24 Literature People Care Enough
5. DRM is a bad business- About to Steal on the Internet . 80
move for MSFT . . . . 32 13. How Copyright Broke . . . . . . 84
3. The DRM Sausage Factory . . . 37 14. In Praise of Fanfic . . . . . . . . 90

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15. Metacrap: Putting the torch to 20. When the Singularity is More
seven straw-men of the meta- Than a Literary Device: An
utopia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Interview with Futurist-Inventor
1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . 95 Ray Kurzweil . . . . . . . . . . 136
2. The problems . . . . . . . 96 21. Wikipedia: a genuine Hitchhik-
ers' Guide to the Galaxy -- mi-
2.1 People lie . . . . . . . . 96
nus the editors . . . . . . . . . 150
2.2 People are lazy . . . . 97 22. Warhol is Turning in His Grave . 161
2.3 People are stupid . . . 97 23. The Future of Ignoring Things . 164
2.4 Mission: Impossible -- 24. Facebook's Faceplant . . . . . . 166
know thyself . . . . . . 98 25. The Future of Internet Immune
2.5 Schemas aren't neutral 99 Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
2.6 Metrics influence results 100 26. All Complex Ecosystems Have
2.7 There's more than one Parasites . . . . . . . . . . . . 174
way to describe some- 27. READ CAREFULLY . . . . . . . 181
thing . . . . . . . . . . 101 28. World of Democracycraft . . . . 185
3. Reliable metadata . . . . . 101 29. Snitchtown . . . . . . . . . . . . 190
30. Hope you enjoyed it! The ac-
16. Amish for QWERTY . . . . . . . 102
tual, physical object that corre-
17. Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books . 105 sponds to this book is superbly
18. Free(konomic) E-books . . . . . 127 designed, portable, and makes
19. The Progressive Apocalypse a great gift: . . . . . . . . . . . 194
and Other Futurismic Delights . 132 31. About the Author . . . . . . . . . 194

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Metadata 196
SiSU Metadata, document information196

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

1 CONTENT - Selected Essays on A word about this downloadable file:

Technology, Creativity, Copyright
and the Future of the Future, I've been releasing my books online for free
Cory Doctorow since my first novel, Down and Out in the
Magic Kingdom, came out in 2003, and with
every one of those books, I've included a
little essay explaining why I do this sort of
I was tempted to write another one of these
essays for this collection, but then it hit me:
this is a collection of essays that are largely
concerned with exactly this subject.
You see, I don't just write essays about copy-
right to serve as forewards to my books: I write
them for magazine,s, newspapers, and web-
sites -- I write speeches on the subject for au-
diences of every description and in every na-
tion. And finally, here, I've collected my fa-
vorites, the closest I've ever come to a Com-
prehensive Doctorow Manifesto.
So I'm going to skip the foreword this time
around: the whole book is my explanation for

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

why I'm giving it away for free online. Publication history and
If you like this book and you want to thank me,
here's what I'd ask you to do, in order of pref-
Introductio: 2008, John Perry Barlow
Microsoft Research DRM Talk (This talk was
• Buy a copy: ‹http://craphound.com/content/buy›
originally given to Microsoft's Research Group
• Donate a copy to a school or library: ‹http: and other interested parties from within the
//craphound.com/content/donate› company at their Redmond offices on June
• Send the ebook to five friends and tell them 17, 2004.)
why you liked it The DRM Sausage Factory (Originally pub-
• Convert the ebook to a new file-format (see lished as “A Behind-The-Scenes Look At How
the download page for more) DRM Becomes Law,” InformationWeek, July
11, 2007)
Now, on to the book!
Happy Meal Toys versus Copyright: How
America chose Hollywood and Wal-Mart, and
why it's doomed us, and how we might survive
anyway (Originally published as “How Holly-
wood, Congress, And DRM Are Beating Up
The American Economy,” InformationWeek,
June 11, 2007)
Why Is Hollywood Making A Sequel To The
Napster Wars? (Originally published in Infor-

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

mationWeek, August 14, 2007) Science Fiction is the Only Literature People
Care Enough About to Steal on the Internet
You DO Like Reading Off a Computer Screen
(Originally published in Locus Magazine, July
(Originally published in Locus Magazine,
March 2007)
How Do You Protect Artists? (Originally pub- How Copyright Broke (Originally published in
lished in The Guardian as “Online censorship Locus Magazine, September, 2006)
hurts us all,” Tuesday, Oct 2, 2007) In Praise of Fanfic (Originally published in Lo-
It's the Information Economy, Stupid (Orig- cus Magazine, May 2007)
inally published in The Guardian as “Free
Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven straw-
data sharing is here to stay,” September 18,
men of the meta-utopia (Self-published, 26
August 2001)
Downloads Give Amazon Jungle Fever (Orig-
inally published in The Guardian, December Amish for QWERTY (Originally published
11, 2007) on the O'Reilly Network, 07/09/2003,
What's the Most Important Right Creators 07/09/amish_qwerty.html)›
Have? (Originally published as “How Big
Media's Copyright Campaigns Threaten Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books (Paper for the
Internet Free Expression,” InformationWeek, O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference,
November 5, 2007) San Diego, February 12, 2004)
Giving it Away (Originally published on Free(konomic) E-books (Originally published
Forbes.com, December 2006) in Locus Magazine, September 2007)

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

The Progressive Apocalypse and Other Futur- The Future of Internet Immune Systems (Orig-
ismic Delights (Originally published in Locus inally published on InformationWeek's Inter-
Magazine, July 2007) net Evolution, November 19, 2007)
When the Singularity is More Than a Literary All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites (Pa-
Device: An Interview with Futurist-Inventor per delivered at the O'Reilly Emerging Tech-
Ray Kurzweil (Originally published in Asi- nology Conference, San Diego, California, 16
mov's Science Fiction Magazine, June March 2005)
READ CAREFULLY (Originally published as
Wikipedia: a genuine Hitchhikers' Guide to the “Shrinkwrap Licenses: An Epidemic Of Law-
Galaxy -- minus the editors (Originally pub- suits Waiting To Happen” in InformationWeek,
lished in The Anthology at the End of the Uni- February 3, 2007)
verse, April 2005)
World of Democracycraft (Originally published
Warhol is Turning in His Grave (Originally as “Why Online Games Are Dictatorships,” In-
published in The Guardian, November 13, formationWeek, April 16, 2007)
Snitchtown (Originally published in
The Future of Ignoring Things (Originally pub- Forbes.com, June 2007)
lished on InformationWeek's Internet Evolu-
tion, October 3, 2007) $$$$

Facebook's Faceplant (Originally published

as “How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill
Facebook,” in InformationWeek, November
26, 2007)

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

Dedication: 1. Introduction by John Perry Barlow 2

For the founders of the Electronic Frontier San Francisco - Seattle - Vancouver - San 3

Foundation: John Perry Barlow, Mitch Kapor Francisco

and John Gilmore
Tuesday, April 1, 2008 4

For the staff -- past and present -- of the Elec-

“Content,” huh? Ha! Where's the con- 5
tronic Frontier Foundation
For the supporters of the Electronic Frontier
Perhaps these words appear to you on the 6
pages of a book, a physical object that might
$$$$ be said to have “contained” the thoughts of
$$$$ my friend and co-conspirator Cory Doctorow
as they were transported in boxes and trucks
all the way from his marvelous mind into
yours. If that is so, I will concede that you
might be encountering “content”. (Actually, if
that's the case, I'm delighted on Cory's behalf,
since that means that you have also paid him
for these thoughts. We still know how to pay
creators directly for the works they embed in
But the chances are excellent that you're read- 7

ing these liquid words as bit-states of light on

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

a computer screen, having taken advantage duit.

of his willingness to let you have them in that
The real “container” would be process of 10
form for free. In such an instance, what “con-
thought that began when I compressed my
tains” them? Your hard disk? His? The Inter-
notion of what is meant by the word “ink”
net and all the servers and routers in whose
- which, when it comes to the substances
caches the ghosts of their passage might still
that can be used to make marks on paper,
remain? Your mind? Cory's?
is rather more variable than you might think
8 To me, it doesn't matter. Even if you're reading - and would kind of end when you decom-
this from a book, I'm still not convinced that pressed it in your own mind as whatever you
what you have in your hands is its container, think it is.
or that, even if we agreed on that point, that a
I know this is getting a bit discursive, but I do 11
little ink in the shape of, say, the visual pattern
have a point. Let me just make it so we can
you're trained to interpret as meaning “a little
move on.
ink” in whatever font the publisher chooses, is
not, as Magritte would remind us, the same I believe, as I've stated before, that informa- 12

thing as a little ink, even though it is. tion is simultaneously a relationship, an ac-
tion, and an area of shared mind. What it isn't
9 Meaning is the issue. If you couldn't read En-
is a noun.
glish, this whole book would obviously con-
tain nothing as far as you were concerned. Information is not a thing. It isn't an object. It 13

Given that Cory is really cool and interesting, isn't something that, when you sell it or have it
you might be motivated to learn English so stolen, ceases to remain in your possession.
that you could read this book, but even then It doesn't have a market value that can be ob-
it wouldn't be a container so much as a con- jectively determined. It is not, for example,

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

much like a 2004 Ducati ST4S motorcycle, for retrieve from reading them. We are both min-
which I'm presently in the market, and which ing a deeply intangible “good,” which lies in
seems - despite variabilities based on, I must interacting with The Mind of Cory Doctorow. I
admit, informationally- based conditions like mention this because it demonstrates the im-
mileage and whether it's been dropped - to measurable role of relationship as the driving
have a value that is pretty consistent among force in an information economy.
the specimens I can find for a sale on the
But neither am I creating content at the 16
moment nor are you “consuming” it (since,
14 Such economic clarity could not be estab- unlike a hamburger, these words will remain
lished for anything “in” this book, which you after you're done with them, and, also unlike
either obtained for free or for whatever price a hamburger you won't subsequently, well�
the publisher eventually puts on it. If it's a never mind.) Unlike real content, like the stuff
book you're reading from, then presumably in a shipping container, these words have
Cory will get paid some percentage of what- neither grams nor liters by which one might
ever you, or the person who gave it to you, measure their value. Unlike gasoline, ten
paid for it. bucks worth of this stuff will get some people
a lot further than others, depending on their
15 But I won't. I'm not getting paid to write this
interest and my eloquence, neither of which
forward, neither in royalties nor upfront. I am,
can be quantified.
however, getting some intangible value, as
one generally does whenever he does a favor It's this simple: the new meaning of the word 17

for a friend. For me, the value being retrieved “content,” is plain wrong. In fact, it is intention-
from going to the trouble of writing these ally wrong. It's a usage that only arose when
words is not so different from the value you the institutions that had fattened on their abil-

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

ity to bottle and distribute the genius of human As I get older, I become less and less in- 20

expression began to realize that their contain- terested in saying “I told you so.” But in this
ers were melting away, along with their reason case, I find it hard to resist. Back during
to be in business. They started calling it con- the Internet equivalent of the Pleistocene. I
tent at exactly the time it ceased to be. Pre- wrote a piece for an ancestor of Wired mag-
viously they had sold books and records and azine called Wired magazine that was titled,
films, all nouns to be sure. They didn't know variously, “The Economy of Ideas” or “Wine
what to call the mysterious ghosts of thought without Bottles.” In this essay, I argued that
that were attached to them. it would be deucedly difficult to continue to
apply the Adam Smithian economic principles
18 Thus, when not applied to something you can regarding the relationship between scarcity
put in a bucket (of whatever size), “content” and value to any products that could be
actually represents a plot to make you think reproduced and distributed infinitely at zero
that meaning is a thing. It isn't. The only rea- cost.
son they want you to think that it is because
I proposed, moreover, that, to the extent that 21
they know how to own things, how to give
anything might be scarce in such an econ-
them a value based on weight or quantity, and,
omy, it would be attention, and that invisibil-
more to the point, how to make them artificially
ity would be a bad strategy for increasing at-
scarce in order to increase their value.
tention. That, in other words, familiarity might
convey more value to information that scarcity
19 That, and the fact that after a good 25 years of
advance warning, they still haven't done much
about the Economy of Ideas besides trying to I did my best to tell the folks in what is now 22

stop it from happening. called “The Content Industry” - the institutions

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

that once arose for the useful purpose of As is my almost pathological inclination, I ex- 25

conveying creative expression from one mind tended them too much credit. I imputed to in-
to many - that this would be a good time to stitutions the same capacities for adaptability
change their economic model. I proposed and recognition of the obvious that I assume
that copyright had worked largely because for humans. But institutions, having the le-
it had been difficult, as a practical matter, to gal system a fundamental part of their genetic
make a book or a record or motion picture code, are not so readily ductile.
film spool.
This is particularly true in America, where 26

23 It was my theory that as soon as all human some combination of certainty and control is
expression could be reduced into ones and the actual “deity” before whose altar we wor-
zeros, people would begin to realize what ship, and where we have a regular practice
this “stuff” really was and come up with an of spawning large and inhuman collective
economic paradigm for rewarding its sources organisms that are a kind of meta-parasite.
that didn't seem as futile as claiming to own These critters - let's call them publicly-held
the wind. Organizations would adapt. The corporations - may be made out of humans,
law would change. The notion of “intellectual but they are not human. Given human folly,
property,” itself only about 35 years old, that characteristic might be semi-ok if they
would be chucked immediately onto the were actually as cold-bloodedly expedient
magnificent ash-heap of Civilization's idiotic as I once fancied them - yielding only to the
experiments. will of the markets and the raw self-interest
of their shareholders. But no. They are also
24 Of course, as we now know, I was wrong. Re- symbiotically subject to the “religious beliefs”
ally wrong. of those humans who feed in their upper

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

elevations. And so it has been for the last 13 years. The 29

companies that claim the ability to regulate hu-

27 Unfortunately, the guys (and they mostly are manity's Right to Know have been tireless in
guys) who've been running The Content In- their endeavors to prevent the inevitable. The
dustry since it started to die share something won most of the legislative battles in the U.S.
like a doctrinal fundamentalism that has led and abroad, having purchased all the govern-
them to such beliefs as the conviction that ment money could buy. They even won most
there's no difference between listening to a of the contests in court. They created digi-
song and shop-lifting a toaster. tal rights management software schemes that
behaved rather like computer viruses.
28 Moreover, they dwell in such a sublime state
Indeed, they did about everything they could 30
of denial that they think they are stewarding
short of seriously examining the actual eco-
the creative process as it arises in the creative
nomics of the situation - it has never been
humans they exploit savagely - knowing, as
proven to me that illegal downloads are more
they do, that a creative human would rather
like shoplifted goods than viral marketing - or
be heard than paid - and that they, a bunch
trying to come up with a business model that
of sated old scoundrels nearing retirement
the market might embrace.
would be able to find technological means for
wrapping “containers” around “their” “content” Had it been left to the stewardship of the usual 31

that the adolescent electronic Hezbollah suspects, there would scarcely be a word
they've inspired by suing their own customers or a note online that you didn't have to pay
will neither be smart nor motivated enough to to experience. There would be increasingly
shred whatever pathetic digital bottles their little free speech or any consequence, since
lackeys design. free speech is not something anyone can

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

own. tained” herein was perfectly suited to the task

of subduing the dinosaurs of content.
32 Fortunately there were countervailing forces
of all sorts, beginning with the wise folks who He's a little like the guerilla plumber Tuttle 35
designed the Internet in the first place. Then in the movie Brazil. Armed with a utility belt
there was something called the Electronic of improbable gizmos, a wildly over-clocked
Frontier Foundation which I co-founded, mind, a keyboard he uses like a verbal
along with Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore, machine gun, and, best of all, a dark sense
back in 1990. Dedicated to the free exchange of humor, he'd go forth against massive
of useful information in cyberspace, it seemed industrial forces and return grinning, if a little
at times that I had been right in suggesting beat up.
then that practically every institution of the
Industrial Period would try to crush, or at least Indeed, many of the essays collected under 36
own, the Internet. That's a lot of lawyers to this dubious title are not only memoirs of his
have stacked against your cause. various campaigns but are themselves the
33 But we had Cory Doctorow. very weapons he used in them. Fortunately,
he has spared you some of the more so-
34 Had nature not provided us with a Cory Doc- phisticated utilities he employed. He is not
torow when we needed one, it would have battering you with the nerdy technolingo he
been necessary for us to invent a time ma- commands when stacked up against various
chine and go into the future to fetch another minutiacrats, but I assure you that he can
like him. That would be about the only place speak geek with people who, unlike Cory,
I can imagine finding such a creature. Cory, think they're being pretty social when they're
as you will learn from his various rants “con- staring at the other person's shoes.

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37 This was a necessary ability. One of the prob- paternal enthusiasm - has reached Cory's age
lems that EFF has to contend with is that even of truly advanced adolescence, the world will
though most of our yet-unborn constituency have recognized that there are better ways to
would agree heartily with our central mission - regulate the economy of mind than pretend-
giving everybody everywhere the right to both ing that its products are something like pig
address and hear everybody everywhere else iron. But even if it hasn't, I am certain that the
- the decisions that will determine the eventual global human discourse will be less encum-
viability of that right are being made now and bered than it would have been had not Cory
generally in gatherings invisible to the general Doctorow blessed our current little chunk of
public, using terminology, whether technical space/time with his fierce endeavors.
or legal, that would be the verbal equivalent
And whatever it is that might be “contained” in 40
of chloroform to anyone not conversant with
the following.
such arcana.
38 I've often repeated my belief that the first re-
sponsibility of a human being is to be a better
ancestor. Thus, it seems fitting that the ap-
pearance of this book, which details much of
Cory's time with the EFF, coincides with the
appearance of his first-born child, about whom
he is a shameless sentimental gusher.
39 I would like to think that by the time this newest
prodigy, Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus
Taylor Doctorow - you see what I mean about

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41 2. Microsoft Research DRM Talk mittedly, my IP-based biz isn't as big as yours,
but I guarantee you that it's every bit as impor-
(This talk was originally given to Microsoft's tant to me as yours is to you.
Research Group and other interested parties Here's what I'm here to convince you 45
from within the company at their Redmond of- of:
fices on June 17, 2004.)
1. That DRM systems don't work 46

42 Greetings fellow pirates! Arrrrr!

2. That DRM systems are bad for soci- 47

43 I'm here today to talk to you about copy- ety

right, technology and DRM, I work for the 3. That DRM systems are bad for busi- 48
Electronic Frontier Foundation on copyright ness
stuff (mostly), and I live in London. I'm not
a lawyer -- I'm a kind of mouthpiece/activist 4. That DRM systems are bad for 49

type, though occasionally they shave me and artists

stuff me into my Bar Mitzvah suit and send 5. That DRM is a bad business-move for 50
me to a standards body or the UN to stir up MSFT
trouble. I spend about three weeks a month
on the road doing completely weird stuff like It's a big brief, this talk. Microsoft has sunk a 51

going to Microsoft to talk about DRM. lot of capital into DRM systems, and spent a
lot of time sending folks like Martha and Brian
44 I lead a double life: I'm also a science fiction and Peter around to various smoke-filled
writer. That means I've got a dog in this fight, rooms to make sure that Microsoft DRM finds
because I've been dreaming of making my liv- a hospitable home in the future world. Com-
ing from writing since I was 12 years old. Ad- panies like Microsoft steer like old Buicks,

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

and this issue has a lot of forward momentum usually call these people Alice, Bob and
that will be hard to soak up without driving Carol.
the engine block back into the driver's com-
Let's say we're in the days of the Caesar, 58
partment. At best I think that Microsoft might
the Gallic War. You need to send messages
convert some of that momentum on DRM into
back and forth to your generals, and you'd
angular momentum, and in so doing, save all
prefer that the enemy doesn't get hold of
our asses.
them. You can rely on the idea that anyone
52 Let's dive into it. who intercepts your message is probably
illiterate, but that's a tough bet to stake your
empire on. You can put your messages into
the hands of reliable messengers who'll chew
53 1. DRM systems don't work them up and swallow them if captured -- but
that doesn't help you if Brad Pitt and his men
54 This bit breaks down into two parts: in skirts skewer him with an arrow before he
knows what's hit him.
55 1. A quick refresher course in crypto the-
ory So you encipher your message with some- 59

thing like ROT-13, where every character is

56 2. Applying that to DRM
rotated halfway through the alphabet. They
57 Cryptography -- secret writing -- is the practice used to do this with non-worksafe material on
of keeping secrets. It involves three parties: a Usenet, back when anyone on Usenet cared
sender, a receiver and an attacker (actually, about work-safe-ness -- A would become N,
there can be more attackers, senders and B is O, C is P, and so forth. To decipher, you
recipients, but let's keep this simple). We just add 13 more, so N goes to A, O to B yadda

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

yadda. The ciphertext is a secret. That's a lot of

secrets, and the more secrets you've got, the
60 Well, this is pretty lame: as soon as anyone
less secure you are, especially if any of those
figures out your algorithm, your secret is
secrets are shared. Shared secrets aren't
really all that secret any longer.
61 So if you're Caesar, you spend a lot of time
Time passes, stuff happens, and then Tesla 62
worrying about keeping the existence of your
invents the radio and Marconi takes credit for
messengers and their payloads secret. Get
it. This is both good news and bad news for
that? You're Augustus and you need to send
crypto: on the one hand, your messages can
a message to Brad without Caceous (a word
get to anywhere with a receiver and an an-
I'm reliably informed means “cheese-like, or
tenna, which is great for the brave fifth colum-
pertaining to cheese”) getting his hands on
nists working behind the enemy lines. On the
it. You give the message to Diatomaceous,
other hand, anyone with an antenna can listen
the fleetest runner in the empire, and you
in on the message, which means that it's no
encipher it with ROT-13 and send him out
longer practical to keep the existence of the
of the garrison in the pitchest hour of the
message a secret. Any time Adolf sends a
night, making sure no one knows that you've
message to Berlin, he can assume Churchill
sent it out. Caceous has spies everywhere,
overhears it.
in the garrison and staked out on the road,
and if one of them puts an arrow through Which is OK, because now we have com- 63

Diatomaceous, they'll have their hands on puters -- big, bulky primitive mechanical
the message, and then if they figure out the computers, but computers still. Computers
cipher, you're b0rked. So the existence of the are machines for rearranging numbers,
message is a secret. The cipher is a secret. and so scientists on both sides engage in

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CONTENT - Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

a fiendish competition to invent the most if you've made mistakes in your cipher is
cleverest method they can for rearranging to tell all the smart people you can about it
numerically represented text so that the other and ask them to think of ways to break it.
side can't unscramble it. The existence of Without this critical step, you'll eventually
the message isn't a secret anymore, but the end up living in a fool's paradise, where your
cipher is. attacker has broken your cipher ages ago
and is quietly decrypting all her intercepts of
64 But this is still too many secrets. If Bobby in-
your messages, snickering at you.
tercepts one of Adolf's Enigma machines, he
can give Churchill all kinds of intelligence. I Best of all, there's only one secret: the key. 66
mean, this was good news for Churchill and And with dual-key crypto it becomes a lot eas-
us, but bad news for Adolf. And at the end of ier for Alice and Bob to keep their keys secret
the day, it's bad news for anyone who wants from Carol, even if they've never met. So long
to keep a secret. as Alice and Bob can keep their keys secret,
65 Enter keys: a cipher that uses a key is still they can assume that Carol won't gain access
more secure. Even if the cipher is disclosed, to their cleartext messages, even though she
even if the ciphertext is intercepted, without has access to the cipher and the ciphertext.
the key (or a break), the message is secret. Conveniently enough, the keys are the short-
Post-war, this is doubly important as we est and simplest of the secrets, too: hence
begin to realize what I think of as Schneier's even easier to keep away from Carol. Hooray
Law: “any person can invent a security for Bob and Alice.
system so clever that she or he can't think Now, let's apply this to DRM. 67
of how to break it.” This means that the only
experimental methodology for discovering In DRM, the attacker is also the recipient. It's 68

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not Alice and Bob and Carol, it's just Alice and sometimes days. Rarely, months. It's not
Bob. Alice sells Bob a DVD. She sells Bob because the people who think them up are
a DVD player. The DVD has a movie on it -- stupid. It's not because the people who break
say, Pirates of the Caribbean -- and it's enci- them are smart. It's not because there's a flaw
phered with an algorithm called CSS -- Con- in the algorithms. At the end of the day, all
tent Scrambling System. The DVD player has DRM systems share a common vulnerability:
a CSS un-scrambler. they provide their attackers with ciphertext,
the cipher and the key. At this point, the
69 Now, let's take stock of what's a secret here:
secret isn't a secret anymore.
the cipher is well-known. The ciphertext is
most assuredly in enemy hands, arrr. So --
what? As long as the key is secret from the
attacker, we're golden. 2. DRM systems are bad for society 73

70 But there's the rub. Alice wants Bob to buy

Pirates of the Caribbean from her. Bob will Raise your hand if you're thinking some- 74

only buy Pirates of the Caribbean if he can de- thing like, “But DRM doesn't have to be
scramble the CSS-encrypted VOB -- video ob- proof against smart attackers, only average
ject -- on his DVD player. Otherwise, the disc individuals! It's like a speedbump!”
is only useful to Bob as a drinks-coaster. So Put your hand down. 75

Alice has to provide Bob -- the attacker -- with

This is a fallacy for two reasons: one techni- 76
the key, the cipher and the ciphertext.
cal, and one social. They're both bad for soci-
71 Hilarity ensues. ety, though.
72 DRM systems are usually broken in minutes, Here's the technical reason: I don't need to be 77

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a cracker to break your DRM. I only need to the Ukrainian pirates who stamp out millions
know how to search Google, or Kazaa, or any of high-quality counterfeits. It's not meant to
of the other general-purpose search tools for be proof against sophisticated college kids.
the cleartext that someone smarter than me It's not meant to be proof against anyone who
has extracted. knows how to edit her registry, or hold down
78 Raise your hand if you're thinking something the shift key at the right moment, or use a
like, “But NGSCB can solve this problem: we'll search engine. At the end of the day, the user
lock the secrets up on the logic board and DRM is meant to defend against is the most
goop it all up with epoxy.” unsophisticated and least capable among
79 Put your hand down.
80 Raise your hand if you're a co-author of the Here's a true story about a user I know who 83

Darknet paper. was stopped by DRM. She's smart, college

educated, and knows nothing about electron-
81 Everyone in the first group, meet the co- ics. She has three kids. She has a DVD in the
authors of the Darknet paper. This is a paper living room and an old VHS deck in the kids'
that says, among other things, that DRM will playroom. One day, she brought home the
fail for this very reason. Put your hands down, Toy Story DVD for the kids. That's a substan-
guys. tial investment, and given the generally jam-
82 Here's the social reason that DRM fails: smeared character of everything the kids get
keeping an honest user honest is like keeping their paws on, she decided to tape the DVD
a tall user tall. DRM vendors tell us that their off to VHS and give that to the kids -- that way
technology is meant to be proof against aver- she could make a fresh VHS copy when the
age users, not organized criminal gangs like first one went south. She cabled her DVD into

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her VHS and pressed play on the DVD and Except she fails. There's a DRM system 86

record on the VCR and waited. called Macrovision embedded -- by law --

in every VHS that messes with the vertical
84 Before I go farther, I want us all to stop a
blanking interval in the signal and causes any
moment and marvel at this. Here is some-
tape made in this fashion to fail. Macrovision
one who is practically technophobic, but who
can be defeated for about $10 with a gadget
was able to construct a mental model of suf-
readily available on eBay. But our infringer
ficient accuracy that she figured out that she
doesn't know that. She's “honest.” Technically
could connect her cables in the right order and
unsophisticated. Not stupid, mind you -- just
dub her digital disc off to analog tape. I imag-
ine that everyone in this room is the front-line
tech support for someone in her or his family: The Darknet paper addresses this possibility: 87
wouldn't it be great if all our non-geek friends it even predicts what this person will do in the
and relatives were this clever and imagina- long run: she'll find out about Kazaa and the
tive? next time she wants to get a movie for the kids,
85 I also want to point out that this is the prover- she'll download it from the net and burn it for
bial honest user. She's not making a copy them.
for the next door neighbors. She's not mak- In order to delay that day for as long as pos- 88
ing a copy and selling it on a blanket on Canal sible, our lawmakers and big rightsholder in-
Street. She's not ripping it to her hard-drive, terests have come up with a disastrous policy
DivX encoding it and putting it in her Kazaa called anticircumvention.
sharepoint. She's doing something honest --
moving it from one format to another. She's Here's how anticircumvention works: if you 89

home taping. put a lock -- an access control -- around a

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copyrighted work, it is illegal to break that lock. and clean-cut and the RIAA folded. Lucky
It's illegal to make a tool that breaks that lock. Ed. Maybe the next guy isn't so lucky.
It's illegal to tell someone how to make that
Matter of fact, the next guy wasn't. Dmitry Skl- 91
tool. One court even held it illegal to tell some-
yarov is a Russian programmer who gave a
one where she can find out how to make that
talk at a hacker con in Vegas on the failings
in Adobe's e-book locks. The FBI threw him
in the slam for 30 days. He copped a plea,
90 Remember Schneier's Law? Anyone can
went home to Russia, and the Russian equiv-
come up with a security system so clever that
alent of the State Department issued a blanket
he can't see its flaws. The only way to find the
warning to its researchers to stay away from
flaws in security is to disclose the system's
American conferences, since we'd apparently
workings and invite public feedback. But now
turned into the kind of country where certain
we live in a world where any cipher used to
equations are illegal.
fence off a copyrighted work is off-limits to
that kind of feedback. That's something that a Anticircumvention is a powerful tool for 92

Princeton engineering prof named Ed Felten people who want to exclude competitors. If
and his team discovered when he submitted you claim that your car engine firmware is a
a paper to an academic conference on the “copyrighted work,” you can sue anyone who
failings in the Secure Digital Music Initiative, makes a tool for interfacing with it. That's
a watermarking scheme proposed by the not just bad news for mechanics -- think of
recording industry. The RIAA responded by the hotrodders who want to chip their cars
threatening to sue his ass if he tried it. We to tweak the performance settings. We have
fought them because Ed is the kind of client companies like Lexmark claiming that their
that impact litigators love: unimpeachable printer cartridges contain copyrighted works

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-- software that trips an “I am empty” flag -- a whacky kind of pseudo-property that's

when the toner runs out, and have sued a swiss-cheesed with exceptions, easements
competitor who made a remanufactured car- and limitations -- but real, no-fooling, actual
tridge that reset the flag. Even garage-door tangible property -- the kind of thing that
opener companies have gotten in on the act, courts have been managing through property
claiming that their receivers' firmware are law for centuries.
copyrighted works. Copyrighted cars, print
carts and garage-door openers: what's next, But anticirumvention lets rightsholders invent 94

copyrighted light-fixtures? new and exciting copyrights for themselves --

to write private laws without accountability or
93 Even in the context of legitimate -- excuse deliberation -- that expropriate your interest in
me, “traditional” -- copyrighted works like your physical property to their favor. Region-
movies on DVDs, anticircumvention is bad coded DVDs are an example of this: there's
news. Copyright is a delicate balance. It no copyright here or in anywhere I know of
gives creators and their assignees some that says that an author should be able to con-
rights, but it also reserves some rights to the trol where you enjoy her creative works, once
public. For example, an author has no right you've paid for them. I can buy a book and
to prohibit anyone from transcoding his books throw it in my bag and take it anywhere from
into assistive formats for the blind. More Toronto to Timbuktu, and read it wherever I
importantly, though, a creator has a very am: I can even buy books in America and
limited say over what you can do once you bring them to the UK, where the author may
lawfully acquire her works. If I buy your book, have an exclusive distribution deal with a lo-
your painting, or your DVD, it belongs to me. cal publisher who sells them for double the US
It's my property. Not my “intellectual property” shelf-price. When I'm done with it, I can sell it

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on or give it away in the UK. Copyright lawyers America, that's not because it'd be illegal
call this “First Sale,” but it may be simpler to to do so: it's because the studios have
think of it as “Capitalism.” invented a business-model and then invented
a copyright law to prop it up. The DVD is your
95 The keys to decrypt a DVD are controlled property and so is the DVD player, but if you
by an org called DVD-CCA, and they have a break the region-coding on your disc, you're
bunch of licensing requirements for anyone going to run afoul of anticircumvention.
who gets a key from them. Among these is
something called region-coding: if you buy a That's what happened to Jon Johansen, a 98

DVD in France, it'll have a flag set that says, Norwegian teenager who wanted to watch
“I am a European DVD.” Bring that DVD to French DVDs on his Norwegian DVD player.
America and your DVD player will compare He and some pals wrote some code to break
the flag to its list of permitted regions, and if the CSS so that he could do so. He's a
they don't match, it will tell you that it's not wanted man here in America; in Norway
allowed to play your disc. the studios put the local fuzz up to bringing
him up on charges of unlawfully trespassing
96 Remember: there is no copyright that says upon a computer system. When his defense
that an author gets to do this. When we wrote asked, “Which computer has Jon trespassed
the copyright statutes and granted authors the upon?” the answer was: “His own.”
right to control display, performance, duplica-
tion, derivative works, and so forth, we didn't His no-fooling, real and physical property 99

leave out “geography” by accident. That was has been expropriated by the weird, notional,
on-purpose. metaphorical intellectual property on his
DVD: DRM only works if your record player
97 So when your French DVD won't play in becomes the property of whomever's records

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you're playing. anyone can build for are what makes billion-
aires out of nerds.
The courts affirm this again and again. It 103

used to be illegal to plug anything that didn't

100 3. DRM systems are bad for biz
come from AT&T into your phone-jack. They
claimed that this was for the safety of the
101 This is the worst of all the ideas embodied by network, but really it was about propping up
DRM: that people who make record-players this little penny-ante racket that AT&T had in
should be able to spec whose records you can charging you a rental fee for your phone until
listen to, and that people who make records you'd paid for it a thousand times over.
should have a veto over the design of record-
players. When that ban was struck down, it created 104

the market for third-party phone equipment,

102 We've never had this principle: in fact, we've from talking novelty phones to answering
always had just the reverse. Think about all machines to cordless handsets to headsets
the things that can be plugged into a parallel or -- billions of dollars of economic activity that
serial interface, which were never envisioned had been suppressed by the closed interface.
by their inventors. Our strong economy and Note that AT&T was one of the big beneficia-
rapid innovation are byproducts of the ability ries of this: they also got into the business of
of anyone to make anything that plugs into making phone-kit.
anything else: from the Flo-bee electric razor
that snaps onto the end of your vacuum-hose DRM is the software equivalent of these 105

to the octopus spilling out of your car's dash- closed hardware interfaces. Robert Scoble
board lighter socket, standard interfaces that is a Softie who has an excellent blog, where

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he wrote an essay about the best way to record players. Ask yourself: how much inno-
protect your investment in the digital music vation has there been over the past decade
you buy. Should you buy Apple iTunes of DVD players? They've gotten cheaper and
music, or Microsoft DRM music? Scoble smaller, but where are the weird and amazing
argued that Microsoft's music was a sounder new markets for DVD that were opened up by
investment, because Microsoft would have the VCR? There's a company that's manufac-
more downstream licensees for its proprietary turing the world's first HDD-based DVD juke-
format and therefore you'd have a richer box, a thing that holds 100 movies, and they're
ecosystem of devices to choose from when charging $27,000 for this thing. We're talking
you were shopping for gizmos to play your about a few thousand dollars' worth of compo-
virtual records on. nents -- all that other cost is the cost of anti-
106 What a weird idea: that we should evaluate
our record-purchases on the basis of which --
recording company will allow the greatest
diversity of record-players to play its discs!
4. DRM systems are bad for artists 108
That's like telling someone to buy the Be-
tamax instead of the Edison Kinetoscope
But what of the artist? The hardworking 109
because Thomas Edison is a crank about
filmmaker, the ink-stained scribbler, the
licensing his patents; all the while ignoring
heroin-cured leathery rock-star? We poor
the world's relentless march to the more open
slobs of the creative class are everyone's
VHS format.
favorite poster-children here: the RIAA and
107 It's a bad business. DVD is a format where the MPAA hold us up and say, “Won't someone
guy who makes the records gets to design the please think of the children?” File-sharers

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say, “Yeah, we're thinking about the artists, thousands -- the hundreds of thousands --
but the labels are The Man, who cares what the millions. They did this without a penny's
happens to you?” compensation to the publishers. They were
digital music pirates. Arrrr!
110 To understand what DRM does to artists,
you need to understand how copyright and Predictably, the composers and music pub- 113

technology interact. Copyright is inherently lishers went nutso. Sousa showed up in

technological, since the things it addresses Congress to say that:
-- copying, transmitting, and so on -- are 114
inherently technological. These talking machines are going to ruin the

111 The piano roll was the first system for cheaply artistic development of music in this
copying music. It was invented at a time country. When I was a boy...in front of every
when the dominant form of entertainment house in the summer evenings, you would find
in America was getting a talented pianist to young people together singing the songs of
come into your living room and pound out the day or old songs. Today you hear these
some tunes while you sang along. The music infernal machines going night and day. We
industry consisted mostly of sheet-music will not have a vocal chord left. The vocal
publishers. chord will be eliminated by a process of
evolution, as was the tail of man when he
112 The player piano was a digital recording
came from the ape.
and playback system. Piano-roll companies
bought sheet music and ripped the notes The publishers asked Congress to ban the pi- 115

printed on it into 0s and 1s on a long roll ano roll and to create a law that said that any
of computer tape, which they sold by the new system for reproducing music should be

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subject to a veto from their industry associ- even if Ringo hates the idea. If you ever
ation. Lucky for us, Congress realized what wondered how Sid Vicious talked Anka into
side of their bread had butter on it and decided letting him get a crack at “My Way,” well, now
not to criminalize the dominant form of enter- you know.
tainment in America.
That compulsory license created a world 118
116 But there was the problem of paying artists.
where a thousand times more money was
The Constitution sets out the purpose of
made by a thousand times more creators
American copyright: to promote the useful
who made a thousand times more mu-
arts and sciences. The composers had a
sic that reached a thousand times more
credible story that they'd do less composing if
they weren't paid for it, so Congress needed
a fix. Here's what they came up with: anyone
This story repeats itself throughout the tech- 119
who paid a music publisher two cents would
nological century, every ten or fifteen years.
have the right to make one piano roll of any
Radio was enabled by a voluntary blanket
song that publisher published. The publisher
license -- the music companies got together
couldn't say no, and no one had to hire
and asked for a consent decree so that they
a lawyer at $200 an hour to argue about
could offer all their music for a flat fee. Cable
whether the payment should be two cents or
TV took a compulsory: the only way cable
a nickel.
operators could get their hands on broadcasts
117 This compulsory license is still in place today: was to pirate them and shove them down the
when Joe Cocker sings “With a Little Help wire, and Congress saw fit to legalize this
from My Friends,” he pays a fixed fee to practice rather than screw around with their
the Beatles' publisher and away he goes -- constituents' TVs.

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120 Sometimes, the courts and Congress decided Hollywood movie off the air, you made a
to simply take away a copyright -- that's what non-transformative use of 100 percent of a
happened with the VCR. When Sony brought creative work in a way that directly undercut
out the VCR in 1976, the studios had already the Discovision licensing stream.
decided what the experience of watching a
movie in your living room would look like: Jack Valenti, the mouthpiece for the motion- 123

they'd licensed out their programming for use picture industry, told Congress in 1982 that
on a machine called a Discovision, which the VCR was to the American film industry
played big LP-sized discs that were read-only. “as the Boston Strangler is to a woman home
Proto-DRM. alone.”

121 The copyright scholars of the day didn't give But the Supreme Court ruled against Holly- 124

the VCR very good odds. Sony argued wood in 1984, when it determined that any
that their box allowed for a fair use, which device capable of a substantial non-infringing
is defined as a use that a court rules is a use was legal. In other words, “We don't buy
defense against infringement based on four this Boston Strangler business: if your busi-
factors: whether the use transforms the work ness model can't survive the emergence of
into something new, like a collage; whether this general-purpose tool, it's time to get an-
it uses all or some of the work; whether other business-model or go broke.”
the work is artistic or mainly factual; and
Hollywood found another business model, 125
whether the use undercuts the creator's
as the broadcasters had, as the Vaudeville
artists had, as the music publishers had, and
122 The Betamax failed on all four fronts: they made more art that paid more artists and
when you time-shifted or duplicated a reached a wider audience.

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126 There's one thing that every new art business- Radio lacked the social elements of live per-
model had in common: it embraced the formance, but more people could build a crys-
medium it lived in. tal set and get it aimed correctly than could
pack into even the largest Vaudeville house.
127 This is the overweening characteristic of
MP3s don't come with liner notes, they aren't
every single successful new medium: it is
sold to you by a hipper-than-thou record store
true to itself. The Luther Bible didn't succeed
clerk who can help you make your choice, bad
on the axes that made a hand-copied monk
rips and truncated files abound: I once down-
Bible valuable: they were ugly, they weren't
loaded a twelve-second copy of “Hey Jude”
in Church Latin, they weren't read aloud
from the original Napster. Yet MP3 is outcom-
by someone who could interpret it for his
peting the CD. I don't know what to do with
lay audience, they didn't represent years of
CDs anymore: I get them, and they're like the
devoted-with-a-capital-D labor by someone
especially nice garment bag they give you at
who had given his life over to God. The thing
the fancy suit shop: it's nice and you feel like a
that made the Luther Bible a success was
goof for throwing it out, but Christ, how many
its scalability: it was more popular because
of these things can you usefully own? I can
it was more proliferate: all success factors
put ten thousand songs on my laptop, but a
for a new medium pale beside its profligacy.
comparable pile of discs, with liner notes and
The most successful organisms on earth are
so forth -- that's a liability: it's a piece of my
those that reproduce the most: bugs and
monthly storage-locker costs.
bacteria, nematodes and virii. Reproduction
is the best of all survival strategies.
Here are the two most important things 129

128 Piano rolls didn't sound as good as the mu- to know about computers and the Inter-
sic of a skilled pianist: but they scaled better. net:

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130 1. A computer is a machine for rearranging and so is the whole sermonette about how
bits nice a book looks on your bookcase and how
nice it smells and how easy it is to slip into
131 2. The Internet is a machine for moving bits
the tub. These are obvious and untrue things,
from one place to another very cheaply and
like the idea that radio will catch on once they
figure out how to sell you hotdogs during the
132 Any new medium that takes hold on the In- intermission, or that movies will really hit their
ternet and with computers will embrace these stride when we can figure out how to bring the
two facts, not regret them. A newspaper press actors out for an encore when the film's run
is a machine for spitting out cheap and smeary out. Or that what the Protestant Reformation
newsprint at speed: if you try to make it output really needs is Luther Bibles with facsimile
fine art lithos, you'll get junk. If you try to make illumination in the margin and a rent-a-priest
it output newspapers, you'll get the basis for a to read aloud from your personal Word of
free society. God.
133 And so it is with the Internet. At the heyday of
New media don't succeed because they're 135
Napster, record execs used to show up at con-
like the old media, only better: they succeed
ferences and tell everyone that Napster was
because they're worse than the old media
doomed because no one wanted lossily com-
at the stuff the old media is good at, and
pressed MP3s with no liner notes and trun-
better at the stuff the old media are bad
cated files and misspelled metadata.
at. Books are good at being paperwhite,
134 Today we hear ebook publishers tell each high-resolution, low-infrastructure, cheap
other and anyone who'll listen that the barrier and disposable. Ebooks are good at being
to ebooks is screen resolution. It's bollocks, everywhere in the world at the same time for

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free in a form that is so malleable that you where you read more and more words
can just pastebomb it into your IM session or off of more and more screens every day
turn it into a page-a-day mailing list. through most of your professional careers.
It's zero-sum: you've also been reading
136 The only really successful epublishing -- I fewer words off of fewer pages as time went
mean, hundreds of thousands, millions of by: the dinosauric executive who prints his
copies distributed and read -- is the book- email and dictates a reply to his secretary is
warez scene, where scanned-and-OCR'd info-roadkill.
books are distributed on the darknet. The
only legit publishers with any success at Today, at this very second, people read words 139

epublishing are the ones whose books cross off of screens for every hour that they can find.
the Internet without technological fetter: Your kids stare at their Game Boys until their
publishers like Baen Books and my own, Tor, eyes fall out. Euroteens ring doorbells with
who are making some or all of their catalogs their hypertrophied, SMS-twitching thumbs in-
available in ASCII and HTML and PDF. stead of their index fingers.

137 The hardware-dependent ebooks, the DRM Paper books are the packaging that books 140

use-and-copy-restricted ebooks, they're come in. Cheap printer-binderies like the

cratering. Sales measured in the tens, some- Internet Bookmobile that can produce a full
times the hundreds. Science fiction is a niche bleed, four color, glossy cover, printed spine,
business, but when you're selling copies by perfect-bound book in ten minutes for a dollar
the ten, that's not even a business, it's a are the future of paper books: when you need
hobby. an instance of a paper book, you generate
one, or part of one, and pitch it out when
138 Every one of you has been riding a curve you're done. I landed at SEA-TAC on Monday

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and burned a couple CDs from my music new technology. But new technology always
collection to listen to in the rental car. When I gives us more art with a wider reach: that's
drop the car off, I'll leave them behind. Who what tech is for.
needs `em?
141 Whenever a new technology has disrupted Tech gives us bigger pies that more artists can 143
copyright, we've changed copyright. Copy- get a bite out of. That's been tacitly acknowl-
right isn't an ethical proposition, it's a utilitarian edged at every stage of the copyfight since
one. There's nothing moral about paying a the piano roll. When copyright and technol-
composer tuppence for the piano-roll rights, ogy collide, it's copyright that changes.
there's nothing immoral about not paying
Hollywood for the right to videotape a movie
off your TV. They're just the best way of bal- Which means that today's copyright -- the 144

ancing out so that people's physical property thing that DRM nominally props up -- didn't
rights in their VCRs and phonographs are come down off the mountain on two stone
respected and so that creators get enough of tablets. It was created in living memory to
a dangling carrot to go on making shows and accommodate the technical reality created
music and books and paintings. by the inventors of the previous generation.
To abandon invention now robs tomorrow's
142 Technology that disrupts copyright does so artists of the new businesses and new reach
because it simplifies and cheapens creation, and new audiences that the Internet and the
reproduction and distribution. The existing PC can give them.
copyright businesses exploit inefficiencies in
the old production, reproduction and distribu-
tion system, and they'll be weakened by the --

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5. DRM is a bad business-move for 145 Real and OpenMG. They spent good money
MSFT engineering “features” into these devices that
kept their customers from freely moving their
146 When Sony brought out the VCR, it made music back and forth between their devices.
a record player that could play Hollywood's Customers stayed away in droves.
records, even if Hollywood didn't like the
idea. The industries that grew up on the back Today, Sony is dead in the water when it 149

of the VCR -- movie rentals, home taping, comes to walkmen. The market leaders are
camcorders, even Bar Mitzvah videographers poky Singaporean outfits like Creative Labs --
-- made billions for Sony and its cohort. the kind of company that Sony used to crush
like a bug, back before it got borged by its
147 That was good business -- even if Sony lost entertainment unit -- and PC companies like
the Betamax-VHS format wars, the money Apple.
on the world-with-VCRs table was enough to
make up for it. That's because Sony shipped a product that 150

there was no market demand for. No Sony

148 But then Sony acquired a relatively tiny en- customer woke up one morning and said,
tertainment company and it started to mas- “Damn, I wish Sony would devote some ex-
sively screw up. When MP3 rolled around pensive engineering effort in order that I may
and Sony's walkman customers were clamor- do less with my music.” Presented with an
ing for a solid-state MP3 player, Sony let its alternative, Sony's customers enthusiastically
music business-unit run its show: instead of jumped ship.
making a high-capacity MP3 walkman, Sony
shipped its Music Clips, low-capacity devices The same thing happened to a lot of people 151

that played brain-damaged DRM formats like I know who used to rip their CDs to WMA.

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You guys sold them software that produced always order the new models the day they're
smaller, better-sounding rips than the MP3 announced, I get a lot of lemons from Apple.
rippers, but you also fixed it so that the That means that I hit Apple's three-iTunes-
songs you ripped were device-locked to their authorized-computers limit pretty early on and
PCs. What that meant is that when they found myself unable to play the hundreds of
backed up their music to another hard-drive dollars' worth of iTunes songs I'd bought be-
and reinstalled their OS (something that the cause one of my authorized machines was
spyware and malware wars has made more a lemon that Apple had broken up for parts,
common than ever), they discovered that one was in the shop getting fixed by Apple,
after they restored their music that they could and one was my mom's computer, 3,000 miles
no longer play it. The player saw the new OS away in Toronto.
as a different machine, and locked them out
If I had been a less good customer for Apple's 154
of their own music.
hardware, I would have been fine. If I had
152 There is no market demand for this “feature.” been a less enthusiastic evangelist for Apple's
None of your customers want you to make products -- if I hadn't shown my mom how
expensive modifications to your products that iTunes Music Store worked -- I would have
make backing up and restoring even harder. been fine. If I hadn't bought so much iTunes
And there is no moment when your customers music that burning it to CD and re-ripping
will be less forgiving than the moment that it and re-keying all my metadata was too
they are recovering from catastrophic technol- daunting a task to consider, I would have
ogy failures. been fine.
153 I speak from experience. Because I buy a new As it was Apple rewarded my trust, evange- 155

Powerbook every ten months, and because I lism and out-of-control spending by treating

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me like a crook and locking me out of my own and made the product they thought their
music, at a time when my Powerbook was in customers wanted.
the shop -- i.e., at a time when I was hardly
I'm a Microsoft customer. Like millions of other 159
disposed to feel charitable to Apple.
Microsoft customers, I want a player that plays
156 I'm an edge case here, but I'm a leading anything I throw at it, and I think that you are
edge case. If Apple succeeds in its business just the company to give it to me.
plans, it will only be a matter of time until even Yes, this would violate copyright law as 160
average customers have upgraded enough it stands, but Microsoft has been making
hardware and bought enough music to end tools of piracy that change copyright law
up where I am. for decades now. Outlook, Exchange and
157 You know what I would totally buy? A record MSN are tools that abet widescale digital
player that let me play everybody's records. infringement.
Right now, the closest I can come to that is an More significantly, IIS and your caching prox- 161

open source app called VLC, but it's clunky ies all make and serve copies of documents
and buggy and it didn't come pre-installed on without their authors' consent, something that,
my computer. if it is legal today, is only legal because com-
panies like Microsoft went ahead and did it
158 Sony didn't make a Betamax that only played
and dared lawmakers to prosecute.
the movies that Hollywood was willing to
permit -- Hollywood asked them to do it, they Microsoft stood up for its customers and for 162

proposed an early, analog broadcast flag progress, and won so decisively that most
that VCRs could hunt for and respond to people never even realized that there was a
by disabling recording. Sony ignored them fight.

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163 Do it again! This is a company that looks the the cellphone economy, because it'll put the
world's roughest, toughest anti-trust regula- extortionate ringtone sellers out of business.
tors in the eye and laughs. Compared to anti- What Mako is saying is that just because you
trust people, copyright lawmakers are panty- bought the CD doesn't mean that you should
waists. You can take them with your arm be- expect to have the ability to listen to it on
hind your back. your MP3 player, and just because it plays
on your MP3 player is no reason to expect it
164 In Siva Vaidhyanathan's book The Anarchist in
to run as a ringtone. I wonder how they feel
the Library, he talks about why the studios are
about alarm clocks that will play a CD to wake
so blind to their customers' desires. It's be-
you up in the morning? Is that strangling the
cause people like you and me spent the 80s
nascent “alarm tone” market?
and the 90s telling them bad science fiction
stories about impossible DRM technology that The phone companies' customers want Sym- 166

would let them charge a small sum of money bian phones and for now, at least, the phone
every time someone looked at a movie -- want companies understand that if they don't sell
to fast-forward? That feature costs another them, someone else will.
penny. Pausing is two cents an hour. The
The market opportunity for a truly capable de- 167
mute button will cost you a quarter.
vices is enormous. There's a company out
165 When Mako Analysis issued their report last there charging $27,000 for a DVD jukebox --
month advising phone companies to stop go and eat their lunch! Steve Jobs isn't go-
supporting Symbian phones, they were just ing to do it: he's off at the D conference telling
writing the latest installment in this story. studio execs not to release hi-def movies un-
Mako says that phones like my P900, which til they're sure no one will make a hi-def DVD
can play MP3s as ringtones, are bad for burner that works with a PC.

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168 Maybe they won't buy into his BS, but they're Because if you don't do it, someone else 171

also not much interested in what you have to will.

sell. At the Broadcast Protection Discussion
Group meetings where the Broadcast Flag
was hammered out, the studios' position was,
“We'll take anyone's DRM except Microsoft's
and Philips'.” When I met with UK broad-
cast wonks about the European version of
the Broadcast Flag underway at the Digital
Video Broadcasters' forum, they told me,
“Well, it's different in Europe: mostly they're
worried that some American company like
Microsoft will get their claws into European
169 American film studios didn't want the
Japanese electronics companies to get a
piece of the movie pie, so they fought the
VCR. Today, everyone who makes movies
agrees that they don't want to let you guys get
between them and their customers.
170 Sony didn't get permission. Neither should
you. Go build the record player that can play
everyone's records.

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172 3. The DRM Sausage Factory must be armored. Like the electrical meter on
the side of your house, a DRM is a technol-
(Originally published as “A Behind-The- ogy that you possess, but that you are never
Scenes Look At How DRM Becomes Law,” supposed to be able to manipulate or modify.
InformationWeek, July 11, 2007) Unlike the your meter, though, a DRM that is
defeated in one place is defeated in all places,
173 Otto von Bismarck quipped, “Laws are like nearly simultaneously. That is to say, once
sausages, it is better not to see them being someone takes the DRM off a song or movie
made.” I've seen sausages made. I've seen or ebook, that freed collection of bits can be
laws made. Both pale in comparison to the sent to anyone else, anywhere the network
process by which anti-copying technology reaches, in an eyeblink. DRM crackers need
agreements are made. cunning: those who receive the fruits of their
174 This technology, usually called “Digital Rights labor need only know how to download files
Management” (DRM) proposes to make your from the Internet.
computer worse at copying some of the files
on its hard-drive or on other media. Since Why manufacture a device that attacks its 176

all computer operations involve copying, this owner? A priori, one would assume that
is a daunting task -- as security expert Bruce such a device would cost more to make than
Schneier has said, “Making bits harder to copy a friendlier one, and that customers would
is like making water that's less wet.” prefer not to buy devices that treat them as
presumptive criminals. DRM technologies
175 At root, DRMs are technologies that treat the limit more than copying: they limit ranges
owner of a computer or other device as an of uses, such as viewing a movie in a dif-
attacker, someone against whom the system ferent country, copying a song to a different

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manufacturer's player, or even pausing a gies that made it possible to experience

movie for too long. Surely, this stuff hurts a copyrighted work in a new way without
sales: who goes into a store and asks, “Do permission. There's one battle that serves as
you have any music that's locked to just one the archetype for the rest: the fight over the
company's player? I'm in the market for some VCR.
The film studios were outraged by Sony's cre- 180
177 So why do manufacturers do it? As with ation of the VCR. They had found a DRM sup-
many strange behaviors, there's a carrot at plier they preferred, a company called Disco-
play here, and a stick. vision that made non-recordable optical discs.
178 The carrot is the entertainment industries' Discovision was the only company authorized
promise of access to their copyrighted works. to play back movies in your living room. The
Add DRM to your iPhone and we'll supply only way to get a copyrighted work onto a VCR
music for it. Add DRM to your TiVo and we'll cassette was to record it off the TV, without
let you plug it into our satellite receivers. Add permission. The studios argued that Sony -
DRM to your Zune and we'll let you retail our - whose Betamax was the canary in this le-
music in your Zune store. gal coalmine -- was breaking the law by un-
justly endangering their revenue from Discov-
179 The stick is the entertainment industries' ision royalties. Sure, they could just sell pre-
threat of lawsuits for companies that don't recorded Betamax tapes, but Betamax was
comply. In the last century, entertain- a read-write medium: they could be copied.
ment companies fought over the creation Moreover, your personal library of Betamax
of records, radios, jukeboxes, cable TV, recordings of the Sunday night movie would
VCRs, MP3 players and other technolo- eat into the market for Discovision discs: why

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would anyone buy a pre-recorded video cas- a company can be found liable for its cus-
sette when they could amass all the video they tomers' bad acts if they can be shown to have
needed with a home recorder and a set of “induced” copyright infringement. So, if your
rabbit-ears? company advertises your product for an in-
fringing use, or if it can be shown that you had
181 The Supreme Court threw out these argu- infringement in mind at the design stage, you
ments in a 1984 5-4 decision, the “Betamax can be found liable for your customers' copy-
Decision.” This decision held that the VCR ing. The studios and record labels and broad-
was legal because it was “capable of sustain- casters love this ruling, and they like to think
ing a substantially non-infringing use.” That that it's even broader than what the courts set
means that if you make a technology that out. For example, Viacom is suing Google
your customers can use legally, you're not on for inducing copyright infringement by allow-
the hook for the illegal stuff they do. ing YouTube users to flag some of their videos
182 This principle guided the creation of virtually as private. Private videos can't be found by
every piece of IT invented since: the Web, Viacom's copyright-enforcement bots, so Via-
search engines, YouTube, Blogger, Skype, com says that privacy should be illegal, and
ICQ, AOL, MySpace... You name it, if it's that companies that give you the option of pri-
possible to violate copyright with it, the vacy should be sued for anything you do be-
thing that made it possible is the Betamax hind closed doors.
The gutshot Betamax doctrine will bleed out 184

183 Unfortunately, the Supremes shot the Beta- all over the industry for decades (or until
max principle in the gut two years ago, with the courts or Congress restore it to health),
the Grokster decision. This decision says that providing a grisly reminder of what happens

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to companies that try to pour the entertain- TV, and so they proposed that a law should
ment companies' old wine into new digital be passed that would make all manufacturers
bottles without permission. The tape-recorder promise to pretend that there was DRM on
was legal, but the digital tape-recorder is an broadcast signals, receiving them and imme-
inducement to infringement, and must be diately squirreling them away in encrypted
stopped. form.
185 The promise of access to content and the The Broadcast Flag was hammered out 187

threat of legal execution for non-compliance in a group called the Broadcast Protection
is enough to lure technology's biggest players Discussion Group (BPDG) a sub-group from
to the DRM table. the MPAA's “Content Protection Technology
Working Group,” which also included reps
186 I started attending DRM meetings in March,
from all the big IT companies (Microsoft, Ap-
2002, on behalf of my former employers, the
ple, Intel, and so on), consumer electronics
Electronic Frontier Foundation. My first meet-
companies (Panasonic, Philips, Zenith), cable
ing was the one where Broadcast Flag was
companies, satellite companies, and anyone
born. The Broadcast Flag was weird even by
else who wanted to pay $100 to attend the
DRM standards. Broadcasters are required,
“public” meetings, held every six weeks or
by law, to deliver TV and radio without DRM,
so (you can attend these meetings yourself
so that any standards-compliant receiver
if you find yourself near LAX on one of the
can receive them. The airwaves belong to
upcoming dates).
the public, and are loaned to broadcasters
who have to promise to serve the public CPTWG (pronounced Cee-Pee-Twig) is a 188

interest in exchange. But the MPAA and the venerable presence in the DRM world. It
broadcasters wanted to add DRM to digital was at CPTWG that the DRM for DVDs was

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hammered out. CPTWG meetings open with Then comes the working group meetings, like 190

a “benediction,” delivered by a lawyer, who the BPDG. The BPDG was nominally set up
reminds everyone there that what they say to set up the rules for the Broadcast Flag.
might be quoted “on the front page of the New Under the Flag, manufacturers would be
York Times,” (though journalists are barred required to limit their “outputs and recording
from attending CPTWG meetings and no min- methods” to a set of “approved technologies.”
utes are published by the organization) and Naturally, every manufacturer in the room
reminding all present not to do anything that showed up with a technology to add to the list
would raise eyebrows at the FTC's anti-trust of approved technologies -- and the sneakier
division (I could swear I've seen the Microsoft ones showed up with reasons why their com-
people giggling during this part, though that petitors' technologies shouldn't be approved.
may have been my imagination). If the Broadcast Flag became law, a spot on
the “approved technologies” list would be a
189 The first part of the meeting is usually taken license to print money: everyone who built a
up with administrative business and presen- next-gen digital TV would be required, by law,
tations from DRM vendors, who come out to to buy only approved technologies for their
promise that this time they've really, really gear.
figured out how to make computers worse
at copying. The real meat comes after the The CPTWG determined that there would be 191

lunch, when the group splits into a series of three “chairmen” of the meetings: a represen-
smaller meetings, many of them closed-door tative from the broadcasters, a representative
and private (the representatives of the orga- from the studios, and a representative from
nizations responsible for managing DRM on the IT industry (note that no “consumer rights”
DVDs splinter off at this point). chair was contemplated -- we proposed one

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and got laughed off the agenda). The IT to un-crippled digital TVs. Moreover, Rep
chair was filled by an Intel representative, Billy Tauzin, the lawmaker who'd evidently
who seemed pleased that the MPAA chair, promised to enact the Broadcast Flag into
Fox Studios's Andy Setos, began the process law, was growing impatient. The warnings
by proposing that the approved technologies were delivered in quackspeak, urgent and
should include only two technologies, both of crackling, whenever the discussions dragged,
which Intel partially owned. like the crack of the commissars' pistols,
urging us forward.
192 Intel's presence on the committee was
both reassurance and threat: reassurance You'd think that a “technology working group” 194

because Intel signaled the fundamental rea- would concern itself with technology, but
sonableness of the MPAA's requirements -- there was precious little discussion of bits
why would a company with a bigger turnover and bytes, ciphers and keys. Instead, we
than the whole movie industry show up focused on what amounted to contractual
if the negotiations weren't worth having? terms: if your technology got approved as
Threat because Intel was poised to gain a DTV “output,” what obligations would you
an advantage that might be denied to its have to assume? If a TiVo could serve as an
competitors. “output” for a receiver, what outputs would
the TiVo be allowed to have?
193 We settled in for a long negotiation. The
discussions were drawn out and heated. The longer we sat there, the more snarled 195

At regular intervals, the MPAA reps told us these contractual terms became: winning a
that we were wasting time -- if we didn't coveted spot on the “approved technology”
hurry things along, the world would move list would be quite a burden! Once you were
on and consumers would grow accustomed in the club, there were all sorts of rules about

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whom you could associate with, how you had But we soldiered on. The MPAA had a gift 198

to comport yourself and so on. for resolving the worst snarls: when shout-
ing failed, they'd lead any recalcitrant player
196 One of these rules of conduct was “ro- out of the room and negotiate in secret with
bustness.” As a condition of approval, them, leaving the rest of us to cool our heels.
manufacturers would have to harden their Once, they took the Microsoft team out of the
technologies so that their customers wouldn't room for six hours, then came back and an-
be able to modify, improve upon, or even nounced that digital video would be allowed
understand their workings. As you might to output on non-DRM monitors at a greatly
imagine, the people who made open source reduced resolution (this “feature” appears in
TV tuners were not thrilled about this, as Vista as “fuzzing”).
“open source” and “non-user-modifiable” are
The further we went, the more nervous 199
polar opposites.
everyone became. We were headed for the
real meat of the negotiations: the criteria
197 Another was “renewability:” the ability of
by which approved technology would be
the studios to revoke outputs that had been
evaluated: how many bits of crypto would
compromised in the field. The studios ex-
you need? Which ciphers would be permissi-
pected the manufacturers to make products
ble? Which features would and wouldn't be
with remote “kill switches” that could be used
to shut down part or all of their device if
someone, somewhere had figured out how to Then the MPAA dropped the other shoe: the 200

do something naughty with it. They promised sole criteria for inclusion on the list would be
that we'd establish criteria for renewability the approval of one of its member-companies,
later, and that it would all be “fair.” or a quorum of broadcasters. In other words,

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the Broadcast Flag wouldn't be an “objective to see a larger pattern: Hollywood likes DRM
standard,” describing the technical means by consortia, and they hate individual DRM
which video would be locked away -- it would vendors. (I've written an entire article about
be purely subjective, up to the whim of the this, but here's the gist: a single vendor who
studios. You could have the best product in succeeds can name their price and terms
the world, and they wouldn't approve it if your -- think of Apple or Macrovision -- while a
business-development guys hadn't bought consortium is a more easily divided rabble,
enough drinks for their business-development susceptible to co-option in order to produce
guys at a CES party. ever-worsening technologies -- think of Blu-
Ray and HD-DVD). Intel's technologies were
201 To add insult to injury, the only technologies
held through two consortia, the 5C and 4C
that the MPAA were willing to consider for ini-
tial inclusion as “approved” were the two that
Intel was involved with. The Intel co-chairman The single-vendor manufacturers were livid at 203

had a hard time hiding his grin. He'd acted being locked out of the digital TV market. The
as Judas goat, luring in Apple, Microsoft, and final report of the consortium reflected this --
the rest, to legitimize a process that would a few sheets written by the chairmen describ-
force them to license Intel's patents for every ing the “consensus” and hundreds of pages of
TV technology they shipped until the end of angry invective from manufacturers and con-
time. sumer groups decrying it as a sham.
202 Why did the MPAA give Intel such a sweet- Tauzin washed his hands of the process: a 204

heart deal? At the time, I figured that this canny, sleazy Hill operator, he had the politi-
was just straight quid pro quo, like Hannibal cal instincts to get his name off any proposal
said to Clarice. But over the years, I started that could be shown to be a plot to break

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voters' televisions (Tauzin found a better been written by a staffer at the MPAA.
industry to shill for, the pharmaceutical firms,
who rewarded him with a $2,000,000/year This was truly remarkable. Hollings was a 207

job as chief of PHARMA, the pharmaceutical powerful committee chairman, one who had
lobby). taken immense sums of money from the
industries he was supposed to be regulating.
205 Even Representative Ernest “Fritz” Hollings It's easy to be cynical about this kind of thing,
(“The Senator from Disney,” who once pro- but it's genuinely unforgivable: politicians
posed a bill requiring entertainment industry draw a public salary to sit in public office and
oversight of all technologies capable of work for the public good. They're supposed
copying) backed away from proposing a bill to be working for us, not their donors.
that would turn the Broadcast Flag into law.
Instead, Hollings sent a memo to Michael But we all know that this isn't true. Politi- 208

Powell, then-head of the FCC, telling him cians are happy to give special favors to
that the FCC already had jurisdiction to their pals in industry. However, the Hollings
enact a Broadcast Flag regulation, without memo was beyond the pale. Staffers for
Congressional oversight. the MPAA were writing Hollings's memos,
memos that Hollings then signed and mailed
206 Powell's staff put Hollings's letter online, as off to the heads of major governmental
they are required to do by federal sunshine agencies.
laws. The memo arrived as a Microsoft Word
file -- which EFF then downloaded and ana- The best part was that the legal eagles at the 209

lyzed. Word stashes the identity of a docu- MPAA were wrong. The FCC took “Hollings's”
ment's author in the file metadata, which is advice and enacted a Broadcast Flag regula-
how EFF discovered that the document had tion that was almost identical to the proposal

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from the BPDG, turning themselves into Europe, a DRM consortium working under the
America's “device czars,” able to burden any auspices of the Digital Video Broadcasters
digital technology with “robustness,” “compli- Forum (DVB) has just shipped a proposed
ance” and “revocation rules.” The rule lasted standard for digital TV DRM that makes
just long enough for the DC Circuit Court of the Broadcast Flag look like the work of
Appeals to strike it down and slap the FCC patchouli-scented infohippies. The DVB pro-
for grabbing unprecedented jurisdiction over posal would give DRM consortium the ability
the devices in our living rooms. to define what is and isn't a valid “household”
for the purposes of sharing your video within
210 So ended the saga of the Broadcast Flag.
your “household's devices.” It limits how long
More or less. In the years since the Flag
you're allowed to pause a video for, and
was proposed, there have been several
allows for restrictions to be put in place for
attempts to reintroduce it through legislation,
hundreds of years, longer than any copyright
all failed. And as more and more innovative,
system in the world would protect any work
open devices like the Neuros OSD enter the
market, it gets harder and harder to imagine
that Americans will accept a mandate that
If all this stuff seems a little sneaky, under- 212
takes away all that functionality.
handed and even illegal to you, you're not
211 But the spirit of the Broadcast Flag lives on. alone. When representatives of nearly all the
DRM consortia are all the rage now -- outfits world's entertainment, technology, broadcast,
like AACS LA, the folks who control the DRM satellite and cable companies gather in a
in Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, are thriving and room to collude to cripple their offerings,
making headlines by issuing fatwas against limit their innovation, and restrict the market,
people who publish their secret integers. In regulators take notice.

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213 That's why the EU is taking a hard look at HD- 4. Happy Meal Toys versus Copyright: How 215

DVD and Blu-Ray. These systems aren't de- America chose Hollywood and Wal-Mart,
signed: they're governed, and the governors and why it's doomed us, and how we
are shadowy group of offshore giants who an- might survive anyway
swer to no one -- not even their own members!
I once called the DVD-Copy Control Associa- (Originally published as “How Hollywood,
tion (DVD-CCA) on behalf of a Time-Warner Congress, And DRM Are Beating Up The
magazine, Popular Science, for a comment American Economy,” InformationWeek, June
about their DRM. Not only wouldn't they allow 11, 2007)
me to speak to a spokesman, the person who
Back in 1985, the Senate was ready to clob- 216
denied my request also refused to be identi-
ber the music industry for exposing America's
impressionable youngsters to sex, drugs and
214 The sausage factory grinds away, but today, rock-and-roll. Today, the the Attorney General
more activists than ever are finding ways is proposing to give the RIAA legal tools to at-
to participate in the negotiations, slowing tack people who attempt infringement.
them up, making them account for them-
Through most of America's history, the US 217
selves to the public. And so long as you, the
government has been at odds with the enter-
technology-buying public, pay attention to
tainment giants, treating them as purveyors
what's going on, the activists will continue to
of filth. But not anymore: today, the US Trade
hold back the tide.
Rep using America's political clout to force
$$$$ Russia to institute police inspections of its CD
presses (savor the irony: post-Soviet Russia
forgoes its hard-won freedom of the press to

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protect Disney and Universal!). member their breakfast: overwhelmingly, the

people with good lunches have more positive
218 How did entertainment go from trenchcoat memories of breakfast than those who have
pervert to top trade priority? I blame the bad lunches. We don't remember breakfast
“Information Economy.” -- we look at lunch and superimpose it on
219 No one really knows what “Information Econ- breakfast.
omy” means, but by the early 90s, we knew We make the future in the same way: we ex- 221
it was coming. America deployed her least trapolate as much as we can, and whenever
reliable strategic resource to puzzle out what we run out of imagination, we just shovel the
an “information economy” was and to figure present into the holes. That's why our pic-
out how to ensure America stayed atop the tures of the future always seem to resemble
“new economy” -- America sent in the futur- the present, only moreso.
So the futurists told us about the Information 222
220 We make the future in much the same way Economy: they took all the “information-
as we make the past. We don't remember based” businesses (music, movies and
everything that happened to us, just selective microcode, in the neat coinage of Neal
details. We weave our memories together Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash) and
on demand, filling in any empty spaces with projected a future in which these would grow
the present, which is lying around in great to dominate the world's economies.
abundance. In Stumbling on Happiness,
Harvard psych prof Daniel Gilbert describes There was only one fly in the ointment: most 223

an experiment in which people with delicious of the world's economies consist of poor peo-
lunches in front of them are asked to re- ple who have more time than money, and if

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there's any lesson to learn from American col- The pot-sweetener is the elimination of in- 226

lege kids, it's that people with more time than ternational trade-barriers. Historically, the
money would rather copy information than pay US has used tariffs to limit the import of
for it. manufactured goods from abroad, and to
encourage the import of raw materials from
224 Of course they would! Why, when America
abroad. Generally speaking, rich countries
was a-borning, she was a pirate nation,
import poor countries' raw materials, process
cheerfully copying the inventions of Euro-
them into manufactured goods, and export
pean authors and inventors. Why not? The
them again. Globally speaking, if your coun-
fledgling revolutionary republic could copy
try imports sugar and exports sugar cane,
without paying, keep the money on her
chances are you're poor. If your country
shores, and enrich herself with the products
imports wood and sells paper, chances are
and ideas of imperial Europe. Of course,
you're rich.
once the US became a global hitter in the
creative industries, out came the international In 1995, the US signed onto the World Trade 227

copyright agreements: the US signed agree- Organization and its associated copyright
ments to protect British authors in exchange and patent agreement, the TRIPS Agree-
for reciprocal agreements from the Brits to ment, and the American economy was
protect American authors. transformed.
225 It's hard to see why a developing country Any fellow signatory to the WTO/TRIPS can 228

would opt to export its GDP to a rich country export manufactured goods to the USA with-
when it could get the same benefit by mere out any tariffs. If it costs you $5 to manufac-
copying. The US would have to sweeten the ture and ship a plastic bucket from your factory
pot. in Shenjin Province to the USA, you can sell

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it for $6 and turn a $1 profit. And if it costs an Russians are going to start paying $15 for a
American manufacturer $10 to make the same CD, nor is it likely that they'll stop listening to
bucket, the American manufacturer is out of music until their economy picks up.
But the real action is in China, where pressing 232

229 The kicker is this: if you want to export your bootleg media is a national sport. China keeps
finished goods to America, you have to sign promising that it will do something about this,
up to protect American copyrights in your own but it's not like the US has any recourse if
country. Quid pro quo. China drags its heels. Trade courts may find
against China, but China holds all the cards.
230 The practical upshot, 12 years later, is that The US can't afford to abandon Chinese man-
most American manufacturing has gone ufacturing (and no one will vote for the politi-
belly up, Wal-Mart is filled with Happy Meal cian who hextuples the cost of WiFi cards,
toys and other cheaply manufactured plastic brassieres, iPods, staplers, yoga mats, and
goods, and the whole world has signed onto spatulas by cutting off trade with China). The
US copyright laws. Chinese can just sit tight.
231 But signing onto those laws doesn't mean The futurists were just plain wrong. An “infor- 233

you'll enforce them. Sure, where a country is mation economy” can't be based on selling
really over a barrel (cough, Russia, cough), information. Information technology makes
they'll take the occasional pro forma step to copying information easier and easier. The
enforce US copyrights, no matter how ridicu- more IT you have, the less control you have
lous and totalitarian it makes them appear. over the bits you send out into the world. It
But with the monthly Russian per-capita GDP will never, ever, EVER get any harder to copy
hovering at $200, it's just not plausible that information from here on in. The information

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economy is about selling everything except editions: I'm not going to stop people from
information. copying the electronic editions, so I might as
well treat them as an enticement to buy the
234 The US traded its manufacturing sector's printed objects.
health for its entertainment industry, hop-
ing that Police Academy sequels could But there is an information economy. You 237

take the place of the rustbelt. The US bet don't even need a computer to participate.
wrong. My barber, an avowed technophobe who
rebuilds antique motorcycles and doesn't
235 But like a losing gambler who keeps on dou- own a PC, benefited from the information
bling down, the US doesn't know when to quit. economy when I found him by googling for
It keeps meeting with its entertainment giants, barbershops in my neighborhood.
asking how US foreign and domestic policy
can preserve its business-model. Criminal- Teachers benefit from the information econ- 238

ize 70 million American file-sharers? Check. omy when they share lesson plans with
Turn the world's copyright laws upside down? their colleagues around the world by email.
Check. Cream the IT industry by criminalizing Doctors benefit from the information economy
attempted infringement? Check. when they move their patient files to efficient
digital formats. Insurance companies benefit
236 It'll never work. It can never work. There will from the information economy through better
always be an entertainment industry, but not access to fresh data used in the preparation
one based on excluding access to published of actuarial tables. Marinas benefit from
digital works. Once it's in the world, it'll be the information economy when office-slaves
copied. This is why I give away digital copies look up the weekend's weather online and
of my books and make money on the printed decide to skip out on Friday for a week-

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end's sailing. Families of migrant workers global economic superpowers. The countries
benefit from the information economy when that stubbornly hold to the simplistic idea
their sons and daughters wire cash home that the information economy is about selling
from a convenience store Western Union information will end up at the bottom of the
terminal. pile.
239 This stuff generates wealth for those who What country do you want to live in? 242

practice it. It enriches the country and $$$$

improves our lives.
240 And it can peacefully co-exist with movies,
music and microcode, but not if Hollywood
gets to call the shots. Where IT managers
are expected to police their networks and
systems for unauthorized copying -- no matter
what that does to productivity -- they cannot
co-exist. Where our operating systems are
rendered inoperable by “copy protection,”
they cannot co-exist. Where our educa-
tional institutions are turned into conscript
enforcers for the record industry, they cannot
241 The information economy is all around us.
The countries that embrace it will emerge as

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243 5. Why Is Hollywood Making A Sequel To model: raise venture capital, start charging
The Napster Wars? for access to the service, and then pay
billions of dollars to the record companies
(Originally published in InformationWeek, Au- in exchange for licenses to their works.
gust 14, 2007) Yes, they kicked this plan off without getting
permission from the record companies, but
244 Hollywood loves sequels -- they're generally
that's not so unusual. The record companies
a safe bet, provided that you're continuing an
followed the same business plan a hundred
already successful franchise. But you'd have
years ago, when they started recording sheet
to be nuts to shoot a sequel to a disastrous
music without permission, raising capital and
flop -- say, The Adventures of Pluto Nash or
garnering profits, and then working out a deal
Town and Country.
to pay the composers for the works they'd
245 As disastrous as Pluto Nash was, it was built their fortunes on.
practically painless when compared to the
Napster debacle. That shipwreck took place Napster's plan was plausible. They had the 248

six years ago, when the record industry fastest-adopted technology in the history of
succeeded in shutting down the pioneering the world, garnering 52,000,000 users in 18
file-sharing service, and they show no signs months -- more than had voted for either can-
of recovery. didate in the preceding US election! -- and
discovering, via surveys, that a sizable por-
246 The disastrous thing about Napster wasn't
tion would happily pay between $10 and $15 a
that it it existed, but rather that the record
month for the service. What's more, Napster's
industry managed to kill it.
architecture included a gatekeeper that could
247 Napster had an industry-friendly business- be used to lock-out non-paying users.

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249 The record industry refused to deal. Instead, tomers. These half-baked ventures did untold
they sued, bringing Napster to its knees. Ber- damage to the record companies and their
telsmann bought Napster out of the ensuing parent firms.
bankruptcy, a pattern that was followed by
Just look at Sony: they should have been at 252
other music giants, like Universal, who slayed
the top of the heap. They produce some of
MP3.com in the courts, then brought home
the world's finest, best-designed electronics.
the corpse on the cheap, running it as an
They own one of the largest record labels in
internal project.
the world. The synergy should have been in-
250 After that, the record companies had a field credible. Electronics would design the walk-
day: practically every venture-funded P2P men, music would take care of catalog, and
company went down, and millions of dollars marketing would sell it all.
were funneled from the tech venture capital
You know the joke about European hell? The 253
firms to Sand Hill Road to the RIAA's mem-
English do the cooking, the Germans are
bers, using P2P companies and the courts as
the lovers, the Italians are the police and the
French run the government. With Sony, it
251 But the record companies weren't ready to seemed like music was designing the walk-
replace these services with equally com- men, marketing was doing the catalog, and
pelling alternatives. Instead, they fielded electronic was in charge of selling. Sony's
inferior replacements like PressPlay, with portable players -- the MusicClip and others
limited catalog, high prices, and anti-copying -- were so crippled by anti-copying tech-
technology (digital rights management, or nology that they couldn't even play MP3s,
DRM) that alienated users by the millions and the music selection at Sony services
by treating them like crooks instead of cus- like PressPlay was anemic, expensive, and

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equally hobbled. Sony isn't even a name in the international legal and finance system to
the portable audio market anymore -- today's hopelessly snarl the RIAA's members through
walkman is an iPod. half a decade of wild profitability. The com-
pany was eventually brought to ground, but
254 Of course, Sony still has a record-label -- for
the founders walked away and started Skype
now. But sales are falling, and the company
and then Joost.
is reeling from the 2005 “rootkit” debacle,
where in deliberately infected eight million Meantime, dozens of other services had 256

music CDs with a hacker tool called a rootkit, sprung up to fill Kazaa's niche -- AllofMP3,
compromising over 500,000 US computer the notorious Russian site, was eventually
networks, including military and government killed through intervention of the US Trade
networks, all in a (failed) bid to stop copying Representative and the WTO, and was
of its CDs. reborn practically the next day under a new
255 The public wasn't willing to wait for Sony and
the rest to wake up and offer a service that It's been eight years since Sean Fanning cre- 257

was as compelling, exciting and versatile as ated Napster in his college dorm-room. Eight
Napster. Instead, they flocked to a new gen- years later, there isn't a single authorized mu-
eration of services like Kazaa and the various sic service that can compete with the origi-
Gnutella networks. Kazaa's business model nal Napster. Record sales are down every
was to set up offshore, on the tiny Polynesian year, and digital music sales aren't filling in the
island of Vanuatu, and bundle spyware with crater. The record industry has contracted to
its software, making its profits off of fees from four companies, and it may soon be three if
spyware crooks. Kazaa didn't want to pay bil- EMI can get regulatory permission to put itself
lions for record industry licenses -- they used on the block.

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258 The sue-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out plan nies.

was a flop in the box office, a flop in home
video, and a flop overseas. So why is Holly- Only this time, it's not (just) the record indus- 261

wood shooting a remake? try. Broadcasters, movie studios, anyone who

makes video or audio is getting in on the act.
# I recently met an NBC employee who told me
that he thought that a severe, punishing legal
259 YouTube, 2007, bears some passing similar- judgment would send a message to the tech
ity to Napster, 2001. Founded by a couple industry not to field this kind of service any-
guys in a garage, rocketed to popular suc- more.
cess, heavily capitalized by a deep-pocketed
giant. Its business model? Turn popularity Let's hope he's wrong. Google -- YouTube's 262

into dollars and offer a share to the rightsh- owners -- is a grown-up of a company, un-
olders whose works they're using. This is an usual in a tech industry populated by corpo-
historically sound plan: cable operators got rate adolescents. They have lots of money
rich by retransmitting broadcasts without per- and a sober interest in keeping it. They want
mission, and once they were commercial suc- to sit down with A/V rightsholders and do a
cesses, they sat down to negotiate to pay for deal. Six years after the Napster verdict, that
those copyrights (just as the record compa- kind of willingness is in short supply.
nies negotiated with composers after they'd
gotten rich selling records bearing those com- Most of the tech “companies” with an in- 263

positions). terest in commercializing Internet AV have

no interest in sitting down with the studios.
260 YouTube 07 has another similarity to Napster They're either nebulous open source projects
01: it is being sued by entertainment compa- (like mythtv, a free hyper-TiVo that skips

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commercials, downloads and shares videos them. Time-Warner has been known to
and is wide open to anyone who wants to remotely delete stored episodes of shows just
modify and improve it), politically motivated before the DVD ships, and many operators
anarchists (like ThePirateBay, a Swedish have started using “flags” that tell recorders
BitTorrent tracker site that has mirrors in not to allow fast-forwarding, or to prevent
three countries with non-interoperable legal recording altogether.
systems, where they respond to legal notices
The reason that YouTube and TiVo are more 266
by writing sarcastic and profane letters and
popular than ThePirateBay and mythtv is that
putting them online), or out-and-out crooks
they're the easiest way for the public to get
like the bootleggers who use P2P to seed
what it wants -- the video we want, the way
their DVD counterfeiting operations.
we want it. We use these services because
264 It's not just YouTube. TiVo, who pioneered they're like the original Napster: easy, well-
the personal video recorder, is feeling the designed, functional.
squeeze, being systematically locked out of
But if the entertainment industry squeezes 267
the digital cable and satellite market. Their
these players out, ThePirateBay and mythtv
efforts to add a managed TiVoToGo service
are right there, waiting to welcome us in
were attacked by the rightsholders who fought
with open arms. ThePirateBay has already
at the FCC to block them. Cable/satellite
announced that it is launching a YouTube
operators and the studios would much prefer
competitor with no-plugin, in-browser view-
the public to transition to “bundled” PVRs that
ing. Plenty of entrepreneurs are looking at
come with your TV service.
easing the pain and cast of setting up your
265 These boxes are owned by the cable/satellite own mythtv box. The only reason that the
companies, who have absolute control over barriers to BitTorrent and mythtv exist is that it

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hasn't been worth anyone's while to capitalize Companies like Google/YouTube and TiVo are 270

projects to bring them down. But once the rarities: tech companies that want to do deals.
legit competitors of these services are killed, They need to be cherished by entertainment
look out. companies, not sued.
(Thanks to Bruce Nash and The-Numbers.com 271
268 The thing is, the public doesn't want managed
for research assistance with this arti-
services with limited rights. We don't want to
be stuck using approved devices in approved
ways. We never have -- we are the spiritual $$$$
descendants of the customers for “illegal”
record albums and “illegal” cable TV. The
demand signal won't go away.

269 There's no good excuse for going into produc-

tion on a sequel to The Napster Wars. We
saw that movie. We know how it turns out.
Every Christmas, we get articles about how
this was the worst Christmas ever for CDs.
You know what? CD sales are never going
to improve. CDs have been rendered obso-
lete by Internet distribution -- and the record
industry has locked itself out of the only prof-
itable, popular music distribution systems yet

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272 6. You DO Like Reading Off a Computer about the iPhone (pausing my MP3 player
Screen first), cleared out my RSS reader, and then
returned to write this paragraph.
(Originally published in Locus Magazine,
This is not an ideal environment in which to 275
March 2007)
concentrate on long-form narrative (sorry,
273 “I don't like reading off a computer screen” -- one sec, gotta blog this guy who's made
it's a cliché of the e-book world. It means “I cardboard furniture) (wait, the Colbert clip's
don't read novels off of computer screens” (or done, gotta start the music up) (19 more RSS
phones, or PDAs, or dedicated e-book read- items). But that's not to say that it's not an
ers), and often as not the person who says it is entertainment medium -- indeed, practically
someone who, in fact, spends every hour that everything I do on the computer entertains
Cthulhu sends reading off a computer screen. the hell out of me. It's nearly all text-based,
It's like watching someone shovel Mars Bars too. Basically, what I do on the computer is
into his gob while telling you how much he pleasure-reading. But it's a fundamentally
hates chocolate. more scattered, splintered kind of pleasure.
Computers have their own cognitive style,
274 But I know what you mean. You don't like
and it's not much like the cognitive style
reading long-form works off of a computer
invented with the first modern novel (one
screen. I understand perfectly -- in the ten
sec, let me google that and confirm it), Don
minutes since I typed the first word in the
Quixote, some 400 years ago.
paragraph above, I've checked my mail,
deleted two spams, checked an image- The novel is an invention, one that was engen- 276

sharing community I like, downloaded a dered by technological changes in information

YouTube clip of Stephen Colbert complaining display, reproduction, and distribution. The

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cognitive style of the novel is different from of a cent on a millionth of a word -- no one buys
the cognitive style of the legend. The cogni- newspapers by the paragraph, even though
tive style of the computer is different from the most of us only read a slim fraction of any
cognitive style of the novel. given paper. A super-sharp, super-portable
screen would be used to read all day long,
277 Computers want you to do lots of things with but most of us won't spend most of our time
them. Networked computers doubly so -- reading anything recognizable as a book on
they (another RSS item) have a million ways them.
of asking for your attention, and just as many
ways of rewarding it. Take the record album. Everything about 280

it is technologically pre-determined. The

278 There's a persistent fantasy/nightmare in technology of the LP demanded artwork to
the publishing world of the advent of very differentiate one package from the next. The
sharp, very portable computer screens. In the length was set by the groove density of the
fantasy version, this creates an infinite new pressing plants and playback apparatus. The
market for electronic books, and we all get to dynamic range likewise. These factors gave
sell the rights to our work all over again. In us the idea of the 40-to-60-minute package,
the nightmare version, this leads to runaway split into two acts, with accompanying art-
piracy, and no one ever gets to sell a novel work. Musicians were encouraged to create
again. works that would be enjoyed as a unitary
whole for a protracted period -- think of Dark
279 I think they're both wrong. The infinitely divisi-
Side of the Moon, or Sgt. Pepper's.
ble copyright ignores the “decision cost” borne
by users who have to decide, over and over No one thinks about albums today. Music is 281

again, whether they want to spend a millionth now divisible to the single, as represented by

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an individual MP3, and then subdivisible into But we're watching it in three-minute chunks
snippets like ringtones and samples. When from YouTube. The video's got a pause button
recording artists demand that their works be so you can stop it when the phone rings and a
considered as a whole -- like when Radiohead scrubber to go back and forth when you miss
insisted that the iTunes Music Store sell their something while answering an IM.
whole album as a single, indivisible file that
And attention spans don't increase when 284
you would have to listen to all the way through
you move from the PC to a handheld de-
-- they sound like cranky throwbacks.
vice. These things have less capacity for
282 The idea of a 60-minute album is as weird in multitasking than real PCs, and the network
the Internet era as the idea of sitting through connections are slower and more expensive.
15 hours of Der Ring des Nibelungen was 20 But they are fundamentally multitasking
years ago. There are some anachronisms devices -- you can always stop reading an
who love their long-form opera, but the real e-book to play a hand of solitaire that is
action is in the more fluid stuff that can slither interrupted by a phone call -- and their social
around on hot wax -- and now the superfluid context is that they are used in public places,
droplets of MP3s and samples. Opera sur- with a million distractions. It is socially ac-
vives, but it is a tiny sliver of a much bigger, ceptable to interrupt someone who is looking
looser music market. The future composts at a PDA screen. By contrast, the TV room --
the past: old operas get mounted for living a whole room for TV! -- is a shrine where none
anachronisms; Andrew Lloyd Webber picks may speak until the commercial airs.
up the rest of the business.
The problem, then, isn't that screens aren't 285

283 Or look at digital video. We're watching more sharp enough to read novels off of. The
digital video, sooner, than anyone imagined. problem is that novels aren't screeny enough

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to warrant protracted, regular reading on centile and below. They're not writing nov-
screens. els. If they were, they wouldn't be web writ-
286 Electronic books are a wonderful adjunct to
print books. It's great to have a couple hun- Mostly, we can read just enough of a free e- 289

dred novels in your pocket when the plane book to decide whether to buy it in hardcopy --
doesn't take off or the line is too long at the but not enough to substitute the e-book for the
post office. It's cool to be able to search the hardcopy. Like practically everything in mar-
text of a novel to find a beloved passage. It's keting and promotion, the trick is to find the
excellent to use a novel socially, sending it to form of the work that serves as enticement,
your friends, pasting it into your sig file. not replacement.

287 But the numbers tell their own story -- people Sorry, got to go -- eight more e-mails. 290

who read off of screens all day long buy lots of $$$$
print books and read them primarily on paper.
There are some who prefer an all-electronic
existence (I'd like to be able to get rid of the
objects after my first reading, but keep the e-
books around for reference), but they're in a
tiny minority.
288 There's a generation of web writers who pro-
duce “pleasure reading” on the web. Some
are funny. Some are touching. Some are
enraging. Most dwell in Sturgeon's 90th per-

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291 7. How Do You Protect Artists? on this subject in the UK's parliament, the
European parliament and the US Congress
(Originally published in The Guardian as “On- has focused on making it easier to suppress
line censorship hurts us all,” Tuesday, Oct 2, “illegitimate” material online. From libel to
2007) copyright infringement, from child porn to anti-
terror laws, our legislators have approached
292 Artists have lots of problems. We get pla-
the internet with a single-minded focus on
giarized, ripped off by publishers, savaged by
seeing to it that bad material is expeditiously
critics, counterfeited -- and we even get our
works copied by “pirates” who give our stuff
away for free online. And that's the rub. I'm certainly no fan of child 296

porn or hate speech, but every time a law is

293 But no matter how bad these problems get,
passed that reduces the burden of proof on
they're a distant second to the gravest, most
those who would remove material from the in-
terrifying problem an artist can face: censor-
ternet, artists' fortunes everywhere are endan-
294 It's one thing to be denied your credit or
Take the US's 1998 Digital Millennium Copy- 297
compensation, but it's another thing entirely
right Act, which has equivalents in every
to have your work suppressed, burned or
European state that has implemented the
banned. You'd never know it, however,
2001 European Union Copyright Directive.
judging from the state of the law surrounding
The DMCA allows anyone to have any doc-
the creation and use of internet publishing
ument on the internet removed, simply by
contacting its publisher and asserting that the
295 Since 1995, every single legislative initiative work infringes his copyright.

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298 The potential for abuse is obvious, and Viacom and others want hosting companies 301

the abuse has been widespread: from the and online service providers to preemptively
Church of Scientology to companies that evaluate all the material that their users put
don't like what reporters write about them, online, holding it to ensure that it doesn't in-
DMCA takedown notices have fast become fringe copyright before they release it.
the favorite weapon in the cowardly bully's
arsenal. This notion is impractical in the extreme, for 302

at least two reasons. First, an exhaustive list

299 But takedown notices are just the start. While of copyrighted works would be unimaginably
they can help silence critics and suppress huge, as every single creative work is copy-
timely information, they're not actually very righted from the instant that it is created and
effective at stopping widespread copyright “fixed in a tangible medium”.
infringement. Viacom sent over 100,000
takedown notices to YouTube last February, Second, even if such a list did exist, it would 303

but seconds after it was all removed, new be trivial to defeat, simply by introducing
users uploaded it again. small changes to the infringing copies, as
spammers do with the text of their messages
300 Even these takedown notices were sloppily in order to evade spam filters.
constructed: they included videos of friends
eating at barbecue restaurants and videos In fact, the spam wars have some important 304

of independent bands performing their own lessons to teach us here. Like copyrighted
work. As a Recording Industry Association works, spams are infinitely varied and more
of America spokesman quipped, “When are being created every second. Any com-
you go trawling with a net, you catch a few pany that could identify spam messages -- in-
dolphins.” cluding permutations and variations on exist-

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ing spams -- could write its own ticket to untold that are primary means by which tens of mil-
billions. lions of creative people share the fruits of their
labor with their fans and colleagues.
305 Some of the smartest, most dedicated engi-
neers on the planet devote every waking hour It would be a great Sovietisation of the world's 309

to figuring out how to spot spam before it gets digital printing presses, a contraction of a glo-
delivered. If your inbox is anything like mine, rious anarchy of expression into a regimented
you'll agree that the war is far from won. world of expensive and narrow venues for
306 If the YouTubes of the world are going to pre-
vent infringement, they're going to have to ac- It would be a death knell for the kind of 310

complish this by hand-inspecting every one of focused, non-commercial material whose

the tens of billions of blog posts, videos, text- authors couldn't fit the bill for a “managed”
files, music files and software uploads made service's legion of lawyers, who would be
to every single server on the internet. replaced by more of the same -- the kind of
lowest common denominator rubbish that fills
307 And not just cursory inspections, either --
the cable channels today.
these inspections will have to be undertaken
by skilled, trained specialists (who'd better And the worst of it is, we're marching toward 311

be talented linguists, too -- how many En- this “solution” in the name of protecting artists.
glish speakers can spot an infringement in Gee, thanks.
Urdu?). $$$$
308 Such experts don't come cheap, which means
that you can anticipate a terrible denuding of
the fertile jungle of internet hosting companies

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312 8. It's the Information Economy, erty, you can't have an information market to
Stupid fuel the information economy.
But this is a tragic case of misunderstanding 315
(Originally published in The Guardian as “Free
a metaphor. Just as the industrial economy
data sharing is here to stay,” September 18,
wasn't based on making it harder to get ac-
cess to machines, the information economy
313 Since the 1970s, pundits have predicted a won't be based on making it harder to get
transition to an “information economy.” The access to information. Indeed, the opposite
vision of an economy based on information seems to be true: the more IT we have,
seized the imaginations of the world's gov- the easier it is to access any given piece of
ernments. For decades now, they have been information -- for better or for worse.
creating policies to “protect” information --
It used to be that copy-prevention companies' 316
stronger copyright laws, international treaties
strategies went like this: “We'll make it easier
on patents and trademarks, treaties to protect
to buy a copy of this data than to make
anti-copying technology.
an unauthorized copy of it. That way, only
314 The thinking is simple: an information econ- the uber-nerds and the cash-poor/time-rich
omy must be based on buying and selling classes will bother to copy instead of buy.”
information. Therefore, we need policies to But every time a PC is connected to the
make it harder to get access to information Internet and its owner is taught to use search
unless you've paid for it. That means that we tools like Google (or The Pirate Bay), a third
have to make it harder for you to share infor- option appears: you can just download a
mation, even after you've paid for it. Without copy from the Internet. Every techno-literate
the ability to fence off your information prop- participant in the information economy can

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choose to access any data, without having how to stop Chinese people from looking at
to break the anti-copying technology, just Bruce Willis movies without permission -- but
by searching for the cracked copy on the the Chinese government can't even figure out
public Internet. If there's one thing we can how to stop Chinese people from looking at
be sure of, it's that an information economy seditious revolutionary tracts online.
will increase the technological literacy of its
And, of course, as Paris Hilton, the Church of 318
Scientology and the King of Thailand have dis-
covered, taking a piece of information off the
317 As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room
Internet is like getting food coloring out of a
in Shanghai, behind the Great Firewall of
swimming pool. Good luck with that.
China. Theoretically, I can't access blogging
services that carry negative accounts of To see the evidence of the real information 319

Beijing's doings, like Wordpress, Blogspot economy, look to all the economic activity
and Livejournal, nor the image-sharing site that the Internet enables -- not the stuff that
Flickr, nor Wikipedia. The (theoretically) it impedes. All the commerce conducted by
omnipotent bureaucrats of the local Minitrue salarymen who can book their own flights with
have deployed their finest engineering talent Expedia instead of playing blind-man's bluff
to stop me. Well, these cats may be able to with a travel agent (“Got any flights after 4PM
order political prisoners executed and their to Frankfurt?”). All the garage crafters selling
organs harvested for Party members, but their goods on Etsy.com. All the publishers
they've totally failed to keep Chinese people selling obscure books through Amazon that
(and big-nose tourists like me) off the world's no physical bookstore was willing to carry.
Internet. The WTO is rattling its sabers at The salwar kameez tailors in India selling
China today, demanding that they figure out bespoke clothes to westerners via eBay,

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without intervention by a series of skimming curtailing access to information. Like a bot-

intermediaries. The Internet-era musicians tled water company, we compete with free by
who use the net to pack venues all over the supplying a superior service, not by eliminat-
world by giving away their recordings on ing the competition.
social services like MySpace. Hell, look at my
The world's governments might have bought 321
last barber, in Los Angeles: the man doesn't
into the old myth of the information economy,
use a PC, but I found him by googling for
but not so much that they're willing to ban the
“barbers” with my postcode -- the information
PC and the Internet.
economy is driving his cost of customer
acquisition to zero, and he doesn't even have $$$$
to actively participate in it.

320 Better access to more information is the hall-

mark of the information economy. The more
IT we have, the more skill we have, the faster
our networks get and the better our search
tools get, the more economic activity the infor-
mation economy generates. Many of us sell
information in the information economy -- I sell
my printed books by giving away electronic
books, lawyers and architects and consultants
are in the information business and they drum
up trade with Google ads, and Google is noth-
ing but an info-broker -- but none of us rely on

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322 9. Downloads Give Amazon Jungle As a consumer advocate and activist, I'm de- 325

Fever lighted by almost every public policy initiative

from Amazon. When the Author's Guild tried
(Originally published in The Guardian, to get Amazon to curtail its used-book market,
December 11, 2007) the company refused to back down. Founder
Jeff Bezos (who is a friend of mine) even
323 Let me start by saying that I love Amazon.
wrote, “when someone buys a book, they
I buy everything from books to clothes to
are also buying the right to resell that book,
electronics to medication to food to batteries
to loan it out, or to even give it away if they
to toys to furniture to baby supplies from the
want. Everyone understands this.”
company. I once even bought an ironing
board on Amazon. No company can top them More recently, Amazon stood up to the US 326

for ease of use or for respecting consumer government, who'd gone on an illegal fishing
rights when it comes to refunds, ensuring expedition for terrorists (TERRORISTS!
satisfaction, and taking good care of loyal TERRORISTS! TERRORISTS!) and asked
customers. Amazon to turn over the purchasing history
of 24,000 Amazon customers. The company
324 As a novelist, I couldn't be happier about
spent a fortune fighting for our rights, and
Amazon's existence. Not only does Amazon
have a set of superb recommendation tools
that help me sell books, but it also has It also has a well-deserved reputation for tak- 327

an affiliate program that lets me get up to ing care over copyright “takedown” notices for
8.5% in commissions for sales of my books the material that its customers post on its site,
through the site - nearly doubling my royalty discarding ridiculous claims rather than blindly
rate. acting on every single notice, no matter how

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frivolous. delete your ebooks, even if you've paid for

them, and you get no appeal.
328 But for all that, it has to be said: Whenever
Amazon tries to sell a digital download, it turns It's not just the Kindle, either. Amazon Unbox, 332

into one of the dumbest companies on the the semi-abortive video download service,
web. shipped with terms of service that included
329 Take the Kindle, the $400 handheld ebook your granting permission for Amazon to install
reader that Amazon shipped recently, to vast, any software on your computer, to spy on
ringing indifference. you, to delete your videos, to delete any
other file on your hard drive, to deny you
330 The device is cute enough - in a clumsy, access to your movies if you lose them in a
overpriced, generation-one kind of way - crash. This comes from the company that will
but the early adopter community recoiled in cheerfully ship you a replacement DVD if you
horror at the terms of service and anti-copying email them and tell them that the one you just
technology that infected it. Ebooks that you bought never turned up in the post.
buy through the Kindle can't be lent or resold
(remember, “when someone buys a book, Even Amazon's much-vaunted MP3 store 333

they are also buying the right to resell that comes with terms of service that prevent
book...Everyone understands this.”) lending and reselling.
331 Mark Pilgrim's “The Future of Reading” I am mystified by this. Amazon is the kind of 334

enumerates five other Kindle showstoppers: company that every etailer should study and
Amazon can change your ebooks without copy - the gold standard for e-commerce.
notifying you or getting your permission; and You'd think that if there was any company
if you violate any of the “agreement”, it can that would intuitively get the web, it would be

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Amazon. 10. What's the Most Important Right 336

Creators Have?
335 What's more, this is a company that stands up
to rightsholder groups, publishers and the US
(Originally published as “How Big Media's
government - but only when it comes to phys-
Copyright Campaigns Threaten Internet Free
ical goods. Why is it that whenever a digital
Expression,” InformationWeek, November 5,
sale is in the offing, Amazon rolls over on its
back and wets itself?
Any discussion of “creator's rights” is likely to 337
be limited to talk about copyright, but copy-
right is just a side-dish for creators: the most
important right we have is the right to free ex-
pression. And these two rights are always in
Take Viacom's claims against YouTube. The 338

entertainment giant says that YouTube has

been profiting from the fact that YouTube
users upload clips from Viacom shows, and
they demand that YouTube take steps to
prevent this from happening in the future.
YouTube actually offered to do something
very like this: they invited Viacom and other
rightsholders to send them all the clips they
wanted kept offline, and promised to pro-

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gramatically detect these clips and interdict notice that the material infringes.
This deal enabled hosting companies to offer 341

339 But Viacom rejected this offer. Rather, the free platforms for publication and expression
company wants YouTube to just figure it to everyone. But it also allowed anyone to
out, determine a priori which video clips are censor the Internet, just by making claims of
being presented with permission and which infringement, without offering any evidence to
ones are not. After all, Viacom does the very support those claims, without having to go to
same thing: it won't air clips until a battal- court to prove their claims (this has proven to
ion of lawyers have investigated them and be an attractive nuisance, presenting an irre-
determined whether they are lawful. sistible lure to anyone with a beef against an
online critic, from the Church of Scientology to
340 But the Internet is not cable television. Net-
Diebold's voting machines division).
based hosting outfits -- including YouTube,
Flickr, Blogger, Scribd, and the Internet The proposal for online hosts to figure out 342

Archive -- offer free publication venues to all what infringes and what doesn't is wildly
comers, enabling anyone to publish anything. impractical. Under most countries' copyright
In 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, laws, creative works receive a copyright from
Congress considered the question of liability the moment that they are “fixed in a tangible
for these companies and decided to offer medium” (hard drives count), and this means
them a mixed deal: hosting companies don't that the pool of copyrighted works is so large
need to hire a million lawyers to review every as to be practically speaking infinite. Knowing
blog-post before it goes live, but rightsholders whether a work is copyrighted, who holds the
can order them to remove any infringing copyright, and whether a posting is made with
material from the net just by sending them a the rightsholder's permission (or in accord

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with each nation's varying ideas about fair collapse into the homogeneous world of cable
use) is impossible. The only way to be sure TV (remember when we thought that a “500-
is to start from the presumption that each channel universe” would be unimaginably
creative work is infringing, and then make broad? Imagine an Internet with only 500
each Internet user prove, to some lawyer's “channels!”). From Amazon to Ask A Ninja,
satisfaction, that she has the right to post from Blogger to The Everlasting Blort, every
each drib of content that appears on the bit of online content is made possible by
Web. removing the cost of paying lawyers to act as
the Internet's gatekeepers.
343 Imagine that such a system were the law of the
land. There's no way Blogger or YouTube or
This is great news for artists. The traditional 345
Flickr could afford to offer free hosting to their
artist's lament is that our publishers have
users. Rather, all these hosted services would
us over a barrel, controlling the narrow and
have to charge enough for access to cover the
vital channels for making works available --
scorching legal bills associated with checking
from big gallery owners to movie studios to
all material. And not just the freebies, either:
record labels to New York publishers. That's
your local ISP, the servers hosting your com-
why artists have such a hard time negotiating
pany's website or your page for family geneal-
a decent deal for themselves (for example,
ogy: they'd all have to do the same kind of
most beginning recording artists have to
continuous checking and re-checking of every
agree to have money deducted from their
file you publish with them.
royalty statements for “breakage” of records
344 It would be the end of any publication that en route to stores -- and these deductions are
couldn't foot the legal bills to get off the also levied against digital sales through the
ground. The multi-billion-page Internet would iTunes Store!).

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346 But, thanks to the web, artists have more bigs, making their deals better and more artist-
options than ever. The Internet's most popu- friendly.
lar video podcasts aren't associated with TV
Bargaining leverage is just for starters. The 348
networks (with all the terrible, one-sided deals
greatest threat that art faces is suppression.
that would entail), rather, they're independent
Historically, artists have struggled just to
programs like RocketBoom, Homestar Run-
make themselves heard, just to safeguard
ner, or the late, lamented Ze Frank Show.
the right to express themselves. Censorship
These creators -- along with all the musicians,
is history's greatest enemy of art. A limited-
writers, and other artists using the net to earn
liability Web is a Web where anyone can post
their living -- were able to write their own
anything and reach everyone.
ticket. Today, major artists like Radiohead
and Madonna are leaving the record labels What's more, this privilege isn't limited to 349

behind and trying novel, net-based ways of artists. All manner of communication, from
promoting their work. the personal introspection in public “diaries”
to social chatter on MySpace and Facebook,
347 And it's not just the indies who benefit: the ex- are now possible. Some artists have taken
istence of successful independent artists cre- the bizarre stance that this “trivial” matter
ates fantastic leverage for artists who negoti- is unimportant and thus a poor excuse for
ate with the majors. More and more, the big allowing hosted services to exist in the first
media companies' “like it or leave it” bargain- place. This is pretty arrogant: a society where
ing stance is being undermined by the pos- only artists are allowed to impart “important”
sibility that the next big star will shrug, turn messages and where the rest of us are
on her heel, and make her fortune without the supposed to shut up about our loves, hopes,
big companies' help. This has humbled the aspirations, jokes, family and wants is hardly

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a democratic paradise. 11. Giving it Away 351

350 Artists are in the free expression business,

(Originally published in Forbes.com, Decem-
and technology that helps free expression
ber 2006)
helps artists. When lowering the cost of
copyright enforcement raises the cost of free I've been giving away my books ever since my 352

speech, every artist has a duty to speak out. first novel came out, and boy has it ever made
Our ability to make our art is inextricably me a bunch of money.
linked with the billions of Internet users who
When my first novel, Down and Out in the 353
use the network to talk about their lives.
Magic Kingdom, was published by Tor Books
$$$$ in January 2003, I also put the entire elec-
tronic text of the novel on the Internet under a
Creative Commons License that encouraged
my readers to copy it far and wide. Within a
day, there were 30,000 downloads from my
site (and those downloaders were in turn free
to make more copies). Three years and six
printings later, more than 700,000 copies of
the book have been downloaded from my
site. The book's been translated into more
languages than I can keep track of, key con-
cepts from it have been adopted for software
projects and there are two competing fan
audio adaptations online.

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354 Most people who download the book don't end had to consummate it. In an age of online
up buying it, but they wouldn't have bought it friendship, e-books trump dead trees for word
in any event, so I haven't lost any sales, I've of mouth.
just won an audience. A tiny minority of down-
There are two things that writers ask me 356
loaders treat the free e-book as a substitute for
about this arrangement: First, does it sell
the printed book--those are the lost sales. But
more books, and second, how did you
a much larger minority treat the e-book as an
talk your publisher into going for this mad
enticement to buy the printed book. They're
gained sales. As long as gained sales out-
number lost sales, I'm ahead of the game. Af- There's no empirical way to prove that giving 357

ter all, distributing nearly a million copies of my away books sells more books--but I've done
book has cost me nothing. this with three novels and a short story col-
lection (and I'll be doing it with two more nov-
355 The thing about an e-book is that it's a social els and another collection in the next year),
object. It wants to be copied from friend to and my books have consistently outperformed
friend, beamed from a Palm device, pasted my publisher's expectations. Comparing their
into a mailing list. It begs to be converted to sales to the numbers provided by colleagues
witty signatures at the bottom of e-mails. It is suggests that they perform somewhat better
so fluid and intangible that it can spread itself than other books from similar writers at sim-
over your whole life. Nothing sells books like ilar stages in their careers. But short of go-
a personal recommendation--when I worked ing back in time and re-releasing the same
in a bookstore, the sweetest words we could books under the same circumstances without
hear were “My friend suggested I pick up....” the free e-book program, there's no way to be
The friend had made the sale for us, we just sure.

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358 What is certain is that every writer who's them.

tried giving away e-books to sell books has
come away satisfied and ready to do it some What's more, science fiction's early adopters 360

more. defined the social character of the Internet it-

self. Given the high correlation between tech-
359 How did I talk Tor Books into letting me do nical employment and science fiction reading,
this? It's not as if Tor is a spunky dotcom it was inevitable that the first nontechnical dis-
upstart. They're the largest science fiction cussion on the Internet would be about sci-
publisher in the world, and they're a division ence fiction. The online norms of idle chatter,
of the German publishing giant Holtzbrinck. fannish organizing, publishing and leisure are
They're not patchouli-scented info-hippies descended from SF fandom, and if any liter-
who believe that information wants to be free. ature has a natural home in cyberspace, it's
Rather, they're canny assessors of the world science fiction, the literature that coined the
of science fiction, perhaps the most social of very word “cyberspace.”
all literary genres. Science fiction is driven Indeed, science fiction was the first form of 361
by organized fandom, volunteers who put widely pirated literature online, through “book-
on hundreds of literary conventions in every warez” channels that contained books that
corner of the globe, every weekend of the had been hand-scanned, a page at a time,
year. These intrepid promoters treat books converted to digital text and proof-read. Even
as markers of identity and as cultural artifacts today, the mostly widely pirated literature
of great import. They evangelize the books online is SF.
they love, form subcultures around them, cite
them in political arguments, sometimes they Nothing could make me more sanguine about 362

even rearrange their lives and jobs around the future. As publisher Tim O'Reilly wrote in

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his seminal essay, Piracy is Progressive Tax- of electronic works. Bits aren't ever going to
ation, “being well-enough known to be pirated get harder to copy. So we'll have to figure out
[is] a crowning achievement.” I'd rather stake how to charge for something else. That's not
my future on a literature that people care to say you can't charge for a copy-able bit, but
about enough to steal than devote my life you sure can't force a reader to pay for access
to a form that has no home in the dominant to information anymore.
medium of the century.
This isn't the first time creative entrepreneurs 366
363 What about that future? Many writers fear have gone through one of these transitions.
that in the future, electronic books will come Vaudeville performers had to transition to
to substitute more readily for print books, due radio, an abrupt shift from having perfect
to changing audiences and improved technol- control over who could hear a performance (if
ogy. I am skeptical of this--the codex format they don't buy a ticket, you throw them out)
has endured for centuries as a simple and ele- to no control whatsoever (any family whose
gant answer to the affordances demanded by 12-year-old could build a crystal set, the day's
print, albeit for a relatively small fraction of the equivalent of installing file-sharing software,
population. Most people aren't and will never could tune in). There were business models
be readers--but the people who are readers for radio, but predicting them a priori wasn't
will be readers forever, and they are positively easy. Who could have foreseen that radio's
pervy for paper. great fortunes would be had through creating
364 But say it does come to pass that electronic a blanket license, securing a Congressional
books are all anyone wants. consent decree, chartering a collecting so-
ciety and inventing a new form of statistical
365 I don't think it's practical to charge for copies mathematics to fund it?

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367 Predicting the future of publishing--should my writing, such as the Fulbright Chair I got
the wind change and printed books become at USC this year, this high-paying article in
obsolete--is just as hard. I don't know how Forbes, speaking engagements and other op-
writers would earn their living in such a world, portunities to teach, write and license my work
but I do know that I'll never find out by turning for translation and adaptation. My fans' tire-
my back on the Internet. By being in the less evangelism for my work doesn't just sell
middle of electronic publishing, by watching books--it sells me.
what hundreds of thousands of my readers
The golden age of hundreds of writers who 369
do with my e-books, I get better market intelli-
lived off of nothing but their royalties is
gence than I could through any other means.
bunkum. Throughout history, writers have
As does my publisher. As serious as I am
relied on day jobs, teaching, grants, inheri-
about continuing to work as a writer for the
tances, translation, licensing and other varied
foreseeable future, Tor Books and Holtzbrinck
sources to make ends meet. The Internet not
are just as serious. They've got even more
only sells more books for me, it also gives me
riding on the future of publishing than me.
more opportunities to earn my keep through
So when I approached my publisher with this
writing-related activities.
plan to give away books to sell books, it was
a no-brainer for them. There has never been a time when more 370

people were reading more words by more

368 It's good business for me, too. This “market authors. The Internet is a literary world of
research” of giving away e-books sells printed written words. What a fine thing that is for
books. What's more, having my books more writers.
widely read opens many other opportunities
for me to earn a living from activities around

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371 12. Science Fiction is the Only Literature Radio was clearly good news for musicians 375

People Care Enough About to Steal on -- lots more musicians were able to make
the Internet lots more music, reaching lots more people
and making lots more money. It turned
372 (Originally published in Locus Magazine, July performance into an industry, which is what
2006) happens when you add technology to art.
But it was terrible news for charismatics.
373 As a science fiction writer, no piece of news It put them out on the street, stuck them
could make me more hopeful. It beats the with flipping burgers and driving taxis. They
hell out of the alternative -- a future where the knew it, too. Performers lobbied to have
dominant, pluripotent, ubiquitous medium has the Marconi radio banned, to send Marconi
no place for science fiction literature. back to the drawing board, charged with
inventing a radio they could charge admission
374 When radio and records were invented, they to. “We're charismatics, we do something as
were pretty bad news for the performers of the old and holy as the first story told before the
day. Live performance demanded charisma, first fire in the first cave. What right have you
the ability to really put on a magnetic show to insist that we should become mere clerks,
in front of a crowd. It didn't matter how tech- working in an obscure back-room, leaving
nically accomplished you were: if you stood you to commune with our audiences on our
like a statue on stage, no one wanted to see behalf?”
you do your thing. On the other hand, you
succeeded as a mediocre player, provided Technology giveth and technology taketh 376

you attacked your performance with a lot of away. Seventy years later, Napster showed
brio. us that, as William Gibson noted, “We may

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be at the end of the brief period during which people back to the live performances that
it is possible to charge for recorded music.” characterized the heyday of Vaudeville. Use
Surely we're at the end of the period where it's your recordings -- which you can't control --
possible to exclude those who don't wish to to drive admissions to your performances,
pay. Every song released can be downloaded which you can control. It's a model that's
gratis from a peer-to-peer network (and will worked great for jam bands like the Grateful
shortly get easier to download, as hard-drive Dead and Phish. It's also a model that won't
price/performance curves take us to a place work for many of today's artists; 70 years of
where all the music ever recorded will fit on evolutionary pressure has selected for artists
a disposable pocket-drive that you can just who are more virtuoso than charismatic,
walk over to a friend's place and copy). artists optimized for recording-based income
instead of performance-based income. “How
377 But have no fear: the Internet makes it
dare you tell us that we are to be trained
possible for recording artists to reach a wider
monkeys, capering on a stage for your
audience than ever dreamt of before. Your
amusement? We're not charismatics, we're
potential fans may be spread in a thin, even
white-collar workers. We commune with our
coat over the world, in a configuration that
muses behind closed doors and deliver up our
could never be cost-effective to reach with
work product when it's done, through plastic,
traditional marketing. But the Internet's ability
laser-etched discs. You have no right to de-
to lower the costs for artists to reach their
mand that we convert to a live-performance
audiences and for audiences to find artists
suddenly renders possible more variety in
music than ever before.
Technology giveth and technology taketh 379

378 Those artists can use the Internet to bring away. As bands on MySpace -- who can fill

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houses and sell hundreds of thousands of it's good for some artists and bad for others.
discs without a record deal, by connecting The important question is: will it let more
individually with fans -- have shown, there's a people participate in cultural production? Will
new market aborning on the Internet for mu- it further decentralize decision-making for
sic, one with fewer gatekeepers to creativity artists?
than ever before.
And for SF writers and fans, the further 382

380 That's the purpose of copyright, after all: to question is, “Will it be any good to our chosen
decentralize who gets to make art. Before medium?” Like I said, science fiction is the
copyright, we had patronage: you could make only literature people care enough about to
art if the Pope or the king liked the sound of steal on the Internet. It's the only literature
it. That produced some damned pretty ceil- that regularly shows up, scanned and run
ings and frescos, but it wasn't until control of through optical character recognition software
art was given over to the market -- by giving and lovingly hand-edited on darknet news-
publishers a monopoly over the works they groups, Russian websites, IRC channels and
printed, starting with the Statute of Anne in elsewhere (yes, there's also a brisk trade in
1710 -- that we saw the explosion of creativ- comics and technical books, but I'm talking
ity that investment-based art could create. In- about prose fiction here -- though this is
dustrialists weren't great arbiters of who could clearly a sign of hope for our friends in tech
and couldn't make art, but they were better publishing and funnybooks).
than the Pope.
Some writers are using the Internet's affinity 383

381 The Internet is enabling a further decentraliza- for SF to great effect. I've released every
tion in who gets to make art, and like each of one of my novels under Creative Commons
the technological shifts in cultural production, licenses that encourage fans to share them

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freely and widely -- even, in some cases, instead of the green room. These conversa-
to remix them and to make new editions of tional artists come from all fields, and they
them for use in the developing world. My first combine the best aspects of charisma and vir-
novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, tuosity with charm -- the ability to conduct their
is in its sixth printing from Tor, and has been online selves as part of a friendly salon that es-
downloaded more than 650,000 times from tablishes a non-substitutable relationship with
my website, and an untold number of times their audiences. You might find a film, a game,
from others' websites. and a book to be equally useful diversions on a
slow afternoon, but if the novel's author is a pal
384 I've discovered what many authors have
of yours, that's the one you'll pick. It's a com-
also discovered: releasing electronic texts of
petitive advantage that can't be beat.
books drives sales of the print editions. An
SF writer's biggest problem is obscurity, not
See Neil Gaiman's blog, where he manages 386
piracy. Of all the people who chose not to
the trick of carrying on a conversation with
spend their discretionary time and cash on
millions. Or Charlie Stross's Usenet posts.
our works today, the great bulk of them did
Scalzi's blogs. J. Michael Straczynski's
so because they didn't know they existed,
presence on Usenet -- while in production on
not because someone handed them a free
Babylon 5, no less -- breeding an army of
e-book version.
rabid fans ready to fax-bomb recalcitrant TV
385 But what kind of artist thrives on the Inter- execs into submission and syndication. See
net? Those who can establish a personal re- also the MySpace bands selling a million units
lationship with their readers -- something sci- of their CDs by adding each buyer to their
ence fiction has been doing for as long as “friends lists.” Watch Eric Flint manage the
pros have been hanging out in the con suite Baen Bar, and Warren Ellis's good-natured

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growling on his sites, lists, and so forth. 13. How Copyright Broke 389

387 Not all artists have in them to conduct an

(Originally published in Locus Magazine,
online salon with their audiences. Not all
September, 2006)
Vaudevillians had it in them to transition to
radio. Technology giveth and technology The theory is that if the Internet can't be con- 390

taketh away. SF writers are supposed to be trolled, then copyright is dead. The thing is,
soaked in the future, ready to come to grips the Internet is a machine for copying things
with it. The future is conversational: when cheaply, quickly, and with as little control as
there's more good stuff that you know about possible, while copyright is the right to control
that's one click away or closer than you will who gets to make copies, so these two ab-
ever click on, it's not enough to know that stractions seem destined for a fatal collision,
some book is good. The least substitutable right?
good in the Internet era is the personal
Wrong. 391
The idea that copyright confers the exclusive 392
388 Conversation, not content, is king. If you were
right to control copying, performance, adap-
stranded on a desert island and you opted
tation, and general use of a creative work is a
to bring your records instead of your friends,
polite fiction that has been mostly harmless
we'd call you a sociopath. Science fiction writ-
throughout its brief history, but which has
ers who can insert themselves into their read-
been laid bare by the Internet, and the disjoint
ers' conversations will be set for life.
is showing.
Theoretically, if I sell you a copy of one of my 393

novels, I'm conferring upon you a property in-

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terest in a lump of atoms -- the pages of the as it did with the law. Printing presses were
book -- as well as a license to make some rea- rare and expensive: telling a 17th-century
sonable use of the ethereal ideas embedded reader that he wasn't allowed to print a new
upon the page, the copyrighted work. edition of a book you sold him was about as
meaningful as telling him he wasn't allowed
394 Copyright started with a dispute between to have it laser-etched on the surface of the
Scottish and English publishers, and the moon. Publishing books wasn't something
first copyright law, 1709's Statute of Anne, readers did.
conferred the exclusive right to publish new
Indeed, until the photocopier came along, it 395
editions of a book on the copyright holder.
was practically impossible for a member of the
It was a fair competition statute, and it was
audience to infringe copyright in a way that
silent on the rights that the copyright holder
would rise to legal notice. Copyright was like
had in respect of his customers: the readers.
a tank-mine, designed only to go off when a
Publishers got a legal tool to fight their com-
publisher or record company or radio station
petitors, a legal tool that made a distinction
rolled over it. We civilians couldn't infringe
between the corpus -- a physical book -- and
copyright (many thanks to Jamie Boyle for this
the spirit -- the novel writ on its pages. But
useful analogy).
this legal nicety was not “customer-facing.”
As far as a reader was concerned, once she It wasn't the same for commercial users of 396

bought a book, she got the same rights to it copyrighted works. For the most part, a radio
as she got to any other physical object, like station that played a record was expected
a potato or a shovel. Of course, the reader to secure permission to do so (though this
couldn't print a new edition, but this had as permission usually comes in the form of a
much to do with the realities of technology government-sanctioned blanket license that

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cuts through all the expense of negotiating used, it's very rare for an unauthorized use to
in favor of a single monthly payment that get adjudicated on this basis.
covers all radio play). If you shot a movie,
you were expected to get permission for the No, the realpolitik of unauthorized use is that 398

music you put in it. Critically, there are many users are not required to secure permission
uses that commercial users never paid for. for uses that the rights holder will never dis-
Most workplaces don't pay for the music their cover. If you put some magazine clippings in
employees enjoy while they work. An ad your mood book, the magazine publisher will
agency that produces a demo reel of recent never find out you did so. If you stick a Dilbert
commercials to use as part of a creative cartoon on your office-door, Scott Adams will
briefing to a designer doesn't pay for this never know about it.
extremely commercial use. A film company So while technically the law has allowed 399
whose set-designer clips and copies from rights holders to infinitely discriminate among
magazines and movies to produce a “mood the offerings they want to make -- Special dis-
book” never secures permission nor offers counts on this book, which may only be read
compensation for these uses. on Wednesdays! This film half-price, if you
agree only to show it to people whose names
397 Theoretically, the contours of what you may start with D! -- practicality has dictated that
and may not do without permission are cov- licenses could only be offered on enforceable
ered under a legal doctrine called “fair use,” terms.
which sets out the factors a judge can use to
weigh the question of whether an infringement When it comes to retail customers for infor- 400

should be punished. While fair use is a vi- mation goods -- readers, listeners, watchers
tal part of the way that works get made and -- this whole license abstraction falls flat.

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No one wants to believe that the book he's ble to sell a lot of purely digital “goods” -- soft-
brought home is only partly his, and subject ware, music, movies and books delivered as
to the terms of a license set out on the flyleaf. pure digits over the wire, without a physical
You'd be a flaming jackass if you showed up good changing hands, the copyright lawyers
at a con and insisted that your book may not groped about for a way to take account of this.
be read aloud, nor photocopied in part and It's in the nature of a computer that it copies
marked up for a writers' workshop, nor made what you put on it. A computer is said to be
the subject of a piece of fan-fiction. working, and of high quality, in direct propor-
tion to the degree to which it swiftly and ac-
401 At the office, you might get a sweet deal on a
curately copies the information that it is pre-
coffee machine on the promise that you'll use
sented with.
a certain brand of coffee, and even sign off
on a deal to let the coffee company check in
The copyright lawyers had a versatile ham- 403
on this from time to time. But no one does
mer in their toolbox: the copyright license.
this at home. We instinctively and rightly recoil
These licenses had been presented to cor-
from the idea that our personal, private deal-
porations for years. Frustratingly (for the
ings in our homes should be subject to over-
lawyers), these corporate customers had
sight from some company from whom we've
their own counsel, and real bargaining power,
bought something. We bought it. It's ours.
which made it impossible to impose really
Even when we rent things, like cars, we re-
interesting conditions on them, like limiting
coil from the idea that Hertz might track our
the use of a movie such that it couldn't be
movements, or stick a camera in the steering
fast-forwarded, or preventing the company
from letting more than one employee review
402 When the Internet and the PC made it possi- a journal at a time.

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404 Regular customers didn't have lawyers or more, this statement isn't particularly true of
negotiating leverage. They were a natural for trademark, either). I once got into an argu-
licensing regimes. Have a look at the next ment with a senior Disney TV exec who truly
click-through “agreement” you're provided believed that if you re-broadcasted an old
with on purchasing a piece of software or an program, it was automatically re-copyrighted
electronic book or song. The terms set out in and got another 95 years of exclusive use
those agreements are positively Dickensian (that's wrong).
in their marvelous idiocy. Sony BMG recently
So this is where copyright breaks: When 406
shipped over eight million music CDs with
copyright lawyers try to treat readers and
an “agreement” that bound its purchasers to
listeners and viewers as if they were (weak
destroy their music if they left the country or
and unlucky) corporations who could be
had a house-fire, and to promise not to listen
strong-armed into license agreements you
to their tunes while at work.
wouldn't wish on a dog. There's no con-
ceivable world in which people are going to
405 But customers understand property -- you
tiptoe around the property they've bought
bought it, you own it -- and they don't
and paid for, re-checking their licenses to
understand copyright. Practically no one
make sure that they're abiding by the terms
understands copyright. I know editors at
of an agreement they doubtless never read.
multibillion-dollar publishing houses who
Why read something if it's non-negotiable,
don't know the difference between copyright
and trademark (if you've ever heard someone
say, “You need to defend a copyright or you The answer is simple: treat your readers' 407

lose it,” you've found one of these people property as property. What readers do with
who confuse copyright and trademark; what's their own equipment, as private, noncommer-

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cial actors, is not a fit subject for copyright has sold over one billion tracks since 2003.
regulation or oversight. The Securities Ex- Every song on iTunes is available as a free
change Commission doesn't impose rules download from user-to-user, peer-to-peer net-
on you when you loan a friend five bucks for works like Kazaa. Indeed, the P2P monitoring
lunch. Anti-gambling laws aren't triggered company Big Champagne reports that the av-
when you bet your kids an ice-cream cone erage time-lapse between a iTunes-exclusive
that you'll bicycle home before them. Copy- song being offered by Apple and that same
right shouldn't come between an end-user of song being offered on P2P networks is 180
a creative work and her property. seconds.
408 Of course, this approach is made even sim- Every iTunes customer could readily ac- 410

pler by the fact that practically every customer quire every iTunes song for free, using the
for copyrighted works already operates on this fastest-adopted technology in history. Many
assumption. Which is not to say that this might of them do (just as many fans photocopy
make some business-models more difficult to their favorite stories from magazines and
pursue. Obviously, if there was some way pass them around to friends). But Apple
to ensure that a given publisher was the only has figured out how to compete well enough
source for a copyrighted work, that publisher by offering a better service and a better
could hike up its prices, devote less money to experience to realize a good business out of
service, and still sell its wares. Having to com- this. (Apple also imposes ridiculous licensing
pete with free copies handed from user to user restrictions, but that's a subject for a future
makes life harder -- hasn't it always? column).
409 But it is most assuredly possible. Look at Ap- Science fiction is a genre of clear-eyed spec- 411

ple's wildly popular iTunes Music Store, which ulation about the future. It should have no

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place for wishful thinking about a world where 14. In Praise of Fanfic 415

readers willingly put up with the indignity of

being treated as “licensees” instead of cus- (Originally published in Locus Magazine, May
tomers. 2007)
$$$$ I wrote my first story when I was six. It was 416

412 And now a brief commercial inter- 1977, and I had just had my mind blown clean
lude: out of my skull by a new movie called Star
Wars (the golden age of science fiction is 12;
413 If you're enjoying this book and have been the golden age of cinematic science fiction is
thinking of buying a copy, here's a chance to six). I rushed home and stapled a bunch of pa-
do so: per together, trimmed the sides down so that it
414 ‹http://craphound.com/content/buy› approximated the size and shape of a mass-
market paperback, and set to work. I wrote
an elaborate, incoherent ramble about Star
Wars, in which the events of the film replayed
themselves, tweaked to suit my tastes.
I wrote a lot of Star Wars fanfic that year. By 417

the age of 12, I'd graduated to Conan. By the

age of 18, it was Harlan Ellison. By the age of
26, it was Bradbury, by way of Gibson. Today,
I hope I write more or less like myself.
Walk the streets of Florence and you'll find a 418

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copy of the David on practically every corner. they're paying homage to; and second, that
For centuries, the way to become a Floren- the people who write and read fanfic derive
tine sculptor has been to copy Michelangelo, fantastic satisfaction from their labors. This is
to learn from the master. Not just the great great news for writers.
Florentine sculptors, either -- great or terrible,
they all start with the master; it can be the start Great because fans who are so bought into 421

of a lifelong passion, or a mere fling. The copy your fiction that they'll make it their own are
can be art, or it can be crap -- the best way to fans forever, fans who'll evangelize your work
find out which kind you've got inside you is to to their friends, fans who'll seek out your work
try. however you publish it.

419 Science fiction has the incredible good fortune Great because fans who use your work 422

to have attracted huge, social groups of fan- therapeutically, to work out their own creative
fiction writers. Many pros got their start with urges, are fans who have a damned good
fanfic (and many of them still work at it in se- reason to stick with the field, to keep on
cret), and many fanfic writers are happy to reading even as our numbers dwindle. Even
scratch their itch by working only with others' when the fandom revolves around movies or
universes, for the sheer joy of it. Some fan- TV shows, fanfic is itself a literary pursuit,
fic is great -- there's plenty of Buffy fanfic that something undertaken in the world of words.
trumps the official, licensed tie-in novels -- and The fanfic habit is a literary habit.
some is purely dreadful.
In Japan, comic book fanfic writers publish 423

420 Two things are sure about all fanfic, though: fanfic manga called dojinshi -- some of these
first, that people who write and read fanfic are titles dwarf the circulation of the work they pay
already avid readers of writers whose work tribute to, and many of them are sold com-

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mercially. Japanese comic publishers know call it copyright infringement or trademark in-
a good thing when they see it, and these fan- fringement, and every now and again, some
ficcers get left alone by the commercial giants loony will actually threaten to sue his readers
they attach themselves to. for having had the gall to tell his stories to each
424 And yet for all this, there are many writers who
hate fanfic. Some argue that fans have no I'm frankly flabbergasted by these attitudes. 427

business appropriating their characters and Culture is a lot older than art -- that is, we
situations, that it's disrespectful to imagine have had social storytelling for a lot longer
your precious fictional people into sexual sce- than we've had a notional class of artistes
narios, or to retell their stories from a different whose creativity is privileged and elevated
point of view, or to snatch a victorious happy to the numinous, far above the everyday
ending from the tragic defeat the writer ended creativity of a kid who knows that she can
her book with. paint and draw, tell a story and sing a song,
sculpt and invent a game.
425 Other writers insist that fans who take with-
out asking -- or against the writer's wishes -- To call this a moral failing -- and a new moral 428

are part of an “entitlement culture” that has de- failing at that! -- is to turn your back on mil-
cided that it has the moral right to lift scenarios lions of years of human history. It's no fail-
and characters without permission, that this is ing that we internalize the stories we love, that
part of our larger postmodern moral crisis that we rework them to suit our minds better. The
is making the world a worse place. Pygmalion story didn't start with Shaw or the
Greeks, nor did it end with My Fair Lady. Pyg-
426 Some writers dismiss all fanfic as bad art and malion is at least thousands of years old --
therefore unworthy of appropriation. Some think of Moses passing for the Pharaoh's son!

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-- and has been reworked in a billion bedtime profound. What's more, lots of retellings are
stories, novels, D&D games, movies, fanfic art: witness Pat Murphy's wonderful There
stories, songs, and legends. and Back Again (Tolkien) and Geoff Ryman's
brilliant World Fantasy Award-winning Was
429 Each person who retold Pygmalion did some-
(L. Frank Baum).
thing both original -- no two tellings are just
alike -- and derivative, for there are no new The question of respect is, perhaps, a little 431

ideas under the sun. Ideas are easy. Exe- thornier. The dominant mode of criticism in
cution is hard. That's why writers don't really fanfic circles is to compare a work to the canon
get excited when they're approached by peo- -- “Would Spock ever say that, in `real' life?”
ple with great ideas for novels. We've all got What's more, fanfic writers will sometimes ap-
more ideas than we can use -- what we lack ply this test to works that are of the canon,
is the cohesive whole. as in “Spock never would have said that, and
Gene Roddenberry has no business telling me
430 Much fanfic -- the stuff written for personal
consumption or for a small social group --
isn't bad art. It's just not art. It's not written to This is a curious mix of respect and disre- 432

make a contribution to the aesthetic develop- spect. Respect because it's hard to imagine
ment of humanity. It's created to satisfy the a more respectful stance than the one that
deeply human need to play with the stories says that your work is the yardstick against
that constitute our world. There's nothing which all other work is to be measured --
trivial about telling stories with your friends what could be more respectful than having
-- even if the stories themselves are trivial. your work made into the gold standard?
The act of telling stories to one another is On the other hand, this business of telling
practically sacred -- and it's unquestionably writers that they've given their characters the

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wrong words and deeds can feel obnoxious your characters in his head, trying to interpret
or insulting. that character's actions through his own
433 Writers sometimes speak of their characters
running away from them, taking on a life of Writers can't ask readers not to interpret their 435

their own. They say that these characters work. You can't enjoy a novel that you haven't
-- drawn from real people in our lives and interpreted -- unless you model the author's
mixed up with our own imagination -- are au- characters in your head, you can't care about
tonomous pieces of themselves. It's a short what they do and why they do it. And once
leap from there to mystical nonsense about readers model a character, it's only natural
protecting our notional, fictional children from that readers will take pleasure in imagining
grubby fans who'd set them to screwing what that character might do offstage, to noo-
each other or bowing and scraping before dle around with it. This isn't disrespect: it's
some thinly veiled version of the fanfic writer active reading.
Our field is incredibly privileged to have such 436

434 There's something to the idea of the au- an active fanfic writing practice. Let's stop
tonomous character. Big chunks of our treating them like thieves and start treating
wetware are devoted to simulating other them like honored guests at a table that we
people, trying to figure out if we are likely to laid just for them.
fight or fondle them. It's unsurprising that
when you ask your brain to model some
other person, it rises to the task. But that's
exactly what happens to a reader when you
hand your book over to him: he simulates

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437 15. Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven like keywords, page-length, title, word-count,
straw-men of the meta-utopia abstract, location, SKU, ISBN, and so on.
Explicit, human-generated metadata has
(Self-published, 26 August 2001) enjoyed recent trendiness, especially in the
world of XML. A typical scenario goes like
0. ToC: this: a number of suppliers get together and
* 0. ToC agree on a metadata standard -- a Document
o 0.1 Version History
Type Definition or scheme -- for a given
* 1. Introduction
subject area, say washing machines. They
* 2. The problems
agree to a common vocabulary for describing
washing machines: size, capacity, energy
o 2.1 People lie
consumption, water consumption, price. They
o 2.2 People are lazy
create machine-readable databases of their
o 2.3 People are stupid
inventory, which are available in whole or part
o 2.4 Mission: Impossible -- know thyself
to search agents and other databases, so
o 2.5 Schemas aren't neutral
that a consumer can enter the parameters of
o 2.6 Metrics influence results
the washing machine he's seeking and query
o 2.7 There's more than one way to describe some-
multiple sites simultaneously for an exhaus-
* 3. Reliable metadata
tive list of the available washing machines
that meet his criteria.

439 1. Introduction If everyone would subscribe to such a system 441

and create good metadata for the purposes of

440 Metadata is “data about data” -- information describing their goods, services and informa-

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tion, it would be a trivial matter to search the pliers compete to sell their goods, cranks
Internet for highly qualified, context-sensitive compete to convey their crackpot theories
results: a fan could find all the downloadable (mea culpa), artists compete for audience.
music in a given genre, a manufacturer could Attention-spans and wallets may not be
efficiently discover suppliers, travelers could zero-sum, but they're damned close.
easily choose a hotel room for an upcoming
trip. That's why: 447

442 A world of exhaustive, reliable metadata • A search for any commonly referenced term 448

would be a utopia. It's also a pipe-dream, at a search-engine like Altavista will often
founded on self-delusion, nerd hubris turn up at least one porn link in the first ten
and hysterically inflated market opportuni- results.
• Your mailbox is full of spam with sub- 449

ject lines like “Re: The information you

443 2. The problems requested.”

444 There are at least seven insurmountable • Publisher's Clearing House sends out ad- 450

obstacles between the world as we know vertisements that holler “You may already
it and meta-utopia. I'll enumerate them be a winner!”
• Press-releases have gargantuan lists of 451

empty buzzwords attached to them.

445 2.1 People lie
Meta-utopia is a world of reliable metadata. 452

446 Metadata exists in a competitive world. Sup- When poisoning the well confers benefits to

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the poisoners, the meta-waters get awfully formation -- this despite the fact that adding
toxic in short order. in this info merely requires clicking the “Fetch
Track Info from CDDB” button on every MP3-
ripping application.
453 2.2 People are lazy
Short of breaking fingers or sending out 457

454 You and me are engaged in the incredibly se- squads of vengeful info-ninjas to add meta-
rious business of creating information. Here data to the average user's files, we're never
in the Info-Ivory-Tower, we understand the im- gonna get there.
portance of creating and maintaining excellent
metadata for our information.
2.3 People are stupid 458

455 But info-civilians are remarkably cavalier

about their information. Your clueless aunt Even when there's a positive benefit to creat- 459

sends you email with no subject line, half ing good metadata, people steadfastly refuse
the pages on Geocities are called “Please to exercise care and diligence in their meta-
title this page” and your boss stores all of data creation.
his files on his desktop with helpful titles like
“UNTITLED.DOC.” Take eBay: every seller there has a damned 460

good reason for double-checking their listings

456 This laziness is bottomless. No amount of for typos and misspellings. Try searching for
ease-of-use will end it. To understand the true “plam” on eBay. Right now, that turns up nine
depths of meta-laziness, download ten ran- typoed listings for “Plam Pilots.” Misspelled
dom MP3 files from Napster. Chances are, listings don't show up in correctly-spelled
at least one will have no title, artist or track in- searches and hence garner fewer bids and

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lower sale-prices. You can almost always get books to gather information on the viewing
a bargain on a Plam Pilot at eBay. habits of their sample families, the results
were heavily skewed to Masterpiece Theater
461 The fine (and gross) points of literacy -- and Sesame Street. Replacing the journals
spelling, punctuation, grammar -- elude the with set-top boxes that reported what the
vast majority of the Internet's users. To set was actually tuned to showed what the
believe that J. Random Users will suddenly average American family was really watching:
and en masse learn to spell and punctuate -- naked midget wrestling, America's Funni-
let alone accurately categorize their informa- est Botched Cosmetic Surgeries and Jerry
tion according to whatever hierarchy they're Springer presents: “My daughter dresses like
supposed to be using -- is self-delusion of the a slut!”
first water.
Ask a programmer how long it'll take to write 465

462 2.4 Mission: Impossible -- know a given module, or a contractor how long it'll
thyself take to fix your roof. Ask a laconic Southerner
how far it is to the creek. Better yet, throw
463 In meta-utopia, everyone engaged in the darts -- the answer's likely to be just as reli-
heady business of describing stuff carefully able.
weighs the stuff in the balance and accurately
divines the stuff's properties, noting those People are lousy observers of their own be- 466

results. haviors. Entire religions are formed with the

goal of helping people understand themselves
464 Simple observation demonstrates the fallacy better; therapists rake in billions working for
of this assumption. When Nielsen used log- this very end.

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467 Why should we believe that using metadata Nuclear fusion

will help J. Random User get in touch with her "Mean Devil Woman" Louisiana Hot-Sauce
Buddha nature?
In a given sub-domain, say, Washing Ma- 471

chines, experts agree on sub-hierarchies, with

468 2.5 Schemas aren't neutral classes for reliability, energy consumption,
color, size, etc.
469 In meta-utopia, the lab-coated guardians of
epistemology sit down and rationally map This presumes that there is a “correct” way 472

out a hierarchy of ideas, something like of categorizing ideas, and that reasonable
this: people, given enough time and incentive, can
agree on the proper means for building a
Black holes Nothing could be farther from the truth. Any 473

Everything: hierarchy of ideas necessarily implies the

Matter: importance of some axes over others. A man-
Earth: ufacturer of small, environmentally conscious
Planets washing machines would draw a hierarchy
Washing Machines that looks like this:
Wind: 474

Oxygen Energy consumption:

Poo-gas Water consumption:
Fire: Size:
Nuclear fission Capacity:

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Reliability privilege 30- and 60-minute TV shows (which

is why MTV doesn't show videos any more
475 While a manufacturer of glitzy, feature-laden
-- Nielsen couldn't generate ratings for three-
washing machines would want something like
minute mini-programs, and so MTV couldn't
demonstrate the value of advertising on its
network), raw megahertz scores privilege
Color: Intel's CISC chips over Motorola's RISC
Size: chips.
Reliability Ranking axes are mutually exclusive: soft- 480

ware that scores high for security scores low

477 The conceit that competing interests can
for convenience, desserts that score high
come to easy accord on a common vocab-
for decadence score low for healthiness.
ulary totally ignores the power of organizing
Every player in a metadata standards body
principles in a marketplace.
wants to emphasize their high-scoring axes
and de-emphasize (or, if possible, ignore
478 2.6 Metrics influence results altogether) their low-scoring axes.

479 Agreeing to a common yardstick for mea- It's wishful thinking to believe that a group of 481

suring the important stuff in any domain people competing to advance their agendas
necessarily privileges the items that score will be universally pleased with any hierarchy
high on that metric, regardless of those items' of knowledge. The best that we can hope for
overall suitability. IQ tests privilege people is a detente in which everyone is equally mis-
who are good at IQ tests, Nielsen Ratings erable.

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482 2.7 There's more than one way to describe 490 Of course not. Metadata can be quite useful,
something if taken with a sufficiently large pinch of salt.
The meta-utopia will never come into being,
483 “No, I'm not watching cartoons! It's cultural but metadata is often a good means of making
anthropology.” rough assumptions about the information that
floats through the Internet.
484 “This isn't smut, it's art.”
Certain kinds of implicit metadata is awfully 491
485 “It's not a bald spot, it's a solar panel for a sex- useful, in fact. Google exploits metadata
machine.” about the structure of the World Wide Web:
486 Reasonable people can disagree forever by examining the number of links pointing
on how to describe something. Arguably, at a page (and the number of links pointing
your Self is the collection of associations and at each linker), Google can derive statistics
descriptors you ascribe to ideas. Requiring about the number of Web-authors who be-
everyone to use the same vocabulary to lieve that that page is important enough to
describe their material denudes the cog- link to, and hence make extremely reliable
nitive landscape, enforces homogeneity in guesses about how reputable the information
ideas. on that page is.

487 And that's just not right. This sort of observational metadata is far 492

more reliable than the stuff that human beings

create for the purposes of having their doc-
488 3. Reliable metadata uments found. It cuts through the marketing
bullshit, the self-delusion, and the vocabulary
489 Do we throw out metadata, then? collisions.

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493 Taken more broadly, this kind of metadata 16. Amish for QWERTY 494

can be thought of as a pedigree: who thinks

that this document is valuable? How closely (Originally published on the O'Reilly Network,
correlated have this person's value judgments 07/09/2003)
been with mine in times gone by? This kind
I learned to type before I learned to write. The 495
of implicit endorsement of information is
QWERTY keyboard layout is hard-wired to my
a far better candidate for an information-
brain, such that I can't write anything of signif-
retrieval panacea than all the world's schema
icance without that I have a 101-key keyboard
in front of me. This has always been a badge
$$$$ of geek pride: unlike the creaking pen-and-
ink dinosaurs that I grew up reading, I'm well
adapted to the modern reality of technology.
There's a secret elitist pride in touch-typing on
a laptop while staring off into space, fingers
flourishing and caressing the keys.
But last week, my pride got pricked. I was 496

brung low by a phone. Some very nice

people from Nokia loaned me a very latest-
and-greatest camera-phone, the kind of
gadget I've described in my science fiction
stories. As I prodded at the little 12-key
interface, I felt like my father, a 60s-vintage
computer scientist who can't get his wireless

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network to work, must feel. Like a creaking the wireless network. I use a network that
dino. Like history was passing me by. I'm 31, has no incremental cost for communication,
and I'm obsolete. Or at least Amish. and a device that lets me install any soft-
ware without permission from anyone else.
497 People think the Amish are technophobes.
Right-living is the highly mutated, commodity-
Far from it. They're ideologues. They have a
hardware- based, public and free Internet.
concept of what right-living consists of, and
I'm QWERTY-Amish, in other words.
they'll use any technology that serves that
ideal -- and mercilessly eschew any technol-
I'm the kind of perennial early adopter who 499
ogy that would subvert it. There's nothing
would gladly volunteer to beta test a neural
wrong with driving the wagon to the next farm
interface, but I find myself in a moral panic
when you want to hear from your son, so
when confronted with the 12-button keypad on
there's no need to put a phone in the kitchen.
a cellie, even though that interface is one that
On the other hand, there's nothing right about
has been greedily adopted by billions of peo-
your livestock dying for lack of care, so a
ple worldwide, from strap-hanging Japanese
cellphone that can call the veterinarian can
schoolgirls to Kenyan electoral scrutineers to
certainly find a home in the horse barn.
Filipino guerrillas in the bush. The idea of
498 For me, right-living is the 101-key, QWERTY, paying for every message makes my hackles
computer-centric mediated lifestyle. It's tumesce and evokes a reflexive moral convic-
having a bulky laptop in my bag, crouching tion that text-messaging is inherently undemo-
by the toilets at a strange airport with my AC cratic, at least compared to free-as-air email.
adapter plugged into the always-awkwardly- The idea of only running the software that big-
placed power source, running software that brother telco has permitted me on my handset
I chose and installed, communicating over makes me want to run for the hills.

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500 The thumb-generation who can tap out a before you wed your thought processes to
text-message under their desks while taking your fingers' dance. It may be the one you're
notes with the other hand -- they're in for stuck with.
it, too. The pace of accelerated change
means that we're all of us becoming wed
to interfaces -- ways of communicating with
our tools and our world -- that are doomed,
doomed, doomed. The 12-buttoners are
marrying the phone company, marrying a
centrally controlled network that requires
permission to use and improve, a Stalinist
technology whose centralized choke points
are subject to regulation and the vagaries of
the telcos. Long after the phone companies
have been out-competed by the pure and
open Internet (if such a glorious day comes
to pass), the kids of today will be bound by its
interface and its conventions.

501 The sole certainty about the future is its

Amishness. We will all bend our brains to suit
an interface that we will either have to aban-
don or be left behind. Choose your interface
-- and the values it implies -- carefully, then,

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502 17. Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books Now,” [eBooks suck right now] and as funny
as that is, I don't think it's true.
(Paper for the O'Reilly Emerging Technolo-
No, if I had to come up with another title for 506
gies Conference, San Diego, February 12,
this talk, I'd call it: “Ebooks: You're Soaking
in Them.” [Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them]
503 Forematter: That's because I think that the shape of
ebooks to come is almost visible in the way
504 This talk was initially given at the O'Reilly that people interact with text today, and
Emerging Technology Conference [ that the job of authors who want to become
‹http://conferences.oreillynet.com/et2004/› ], along rich and famous is to come to a better
with a set of slides that, for copyright reasons understanding of that shape.
(ironic!) can't be released alongside of this
file. However, you will find, interspersed I haven't come to a perfect understanding. I 507

in this text, notations describing the places don't know what the future of the book looks
where new slides should be loaded, in like. But I have ideas, and I'll share them with
[square-brackets]. you:
505 For starters, let me try to summarize the 1. Ebooks aren't marketing. [Ebooks aren't 508

lessons and intuitions I've had about ebooks marketing] OK, so ebooks are marketing: that
from my release of two novels and most of a is to say that giving away ebooks sells more
short story collection online under a Creative books. Baen Books, who do a lot of series
Commons license. A parodist who published publishing, have found that giving away elec-
a list of alternate titles for the presentations at tronic editions of the previous installments
this event called this talk, “eBooks Suck Right in their series to coincide with the release of

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a new volume sells the hell out of the new write to me to say that it's easier to do their
book -- and the backlist. And the number term papers if they can copy and paste their
of people who wrote to me to tell me about quotations into their word-processors. Baen
how much they dug the ebook and so bought readers use the electronic editions of their fa-
the paper-book far exceeds the number of vorite series to build concordances of charac-
people who wrote to me and said, “Ha, ha, ters, places and events.
you hippie, I read your book for free and now
I'm not gonna buy it.” But ebooks shouldn't 3. Unless you own the ebook, you don't 0wn 510

be just about marketing: ebooks are a goal the book [Unless you own the ebook, you
unto themselves. In the final analysis, more don't 0wn the book]. I take the view that the
people will read more words off more screens book is a “practice” -- a collection of social
and fewer words off fewer pages and when and economic and artistic activities -- and not
those two lines cross, ebooks are gonna have an “object.” Viewing the book as a “practice”
to be the way that writers earn their keep, instead of an object is a pretty radical notion,
not the way that they promote the dead-tree and it begs the question: just what the hell
editions. is a book? Good question. I write all of
my books in a text-editor [TEXT EDITOR
509 2. Ebooks complement paper books. [Ebooks SCREENGRAB] (BBEdit, from Barebones
complement paper books]. Having an ebook Software -- as fine a text-editor as I could
is good. Having a paper book is good. Having hope for). From there, I can convert them
both is even better. One reader wrote to me into a formatted two-column PDF [TWO-
and said that he read half my first novel from UP SCREENGRAB]. I can turn them into an
the bound book, and printed the other half on HTML file [BROWSER SCREENGRAB]. I can
scrap-paper to read at the beach. Students turn them over to my publisher, who can turn

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them into galleys, advanced review copies, original science fiction magazine, paid a
hardcovers and paperbacks. I can turn them couple cents a word. Today, science fiction
over to my readers, who can convert them to magazines pay...a couple cents a word. The
a bewildering array of formats [DOWNLOAD sums involved are so minuscule, they're not
PAGE SCREENGRAB]. Brewster Kahle's In- even insulting: they're quaint and historical,
ternet Bookmobile can convert a digital book like the WHISKEY 5 CENTS sign over the
into a four-color, full-bleed, perfect-bound, bar at a pioneer village. Some writers do
laminated-cover, printed-spine paper book in make it big, but they're rounding errors as
ten minutes, for about a dollar. Try converting compared to the total population of sf writers
a paper book to a PDF or an html file or a earning some of their living at the trade.
text file or a RocketBook or a printout for a Almost all of us could be making more money
buck in ten minutes! It's ironic, because one elsewhere (though we may dream of earning
of the frequently cited reasons for preferring a stephenkingload of money, and of course,
paper to ebooks is that paper books confer no one would play the lotto if there were no
a sense of ownership of a physical object. winners). The primary incentive for writing
Before the dust settles on this ebook thing, has to be artistic satisfaction, egoboo, and
owning a paper book is going to feel less like a desire for posterity. Ebooks get you that.
ownership than having an open digital edition Ebooks become a part of the corpus of
of the text. human knowledge because they get indexed
by search engines and replicated by the
511 4. Ebooks are a better deal for writers. hundreds, thousands or millions. They can
[Ebooks are a better deal for writers] The be googled.
compensation for writers is pretty thin on the
ground. Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback's Even better: they level the playing field 512

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between writers and trolls. When Amazon > waste your money. Download it for free from
kicked off, many writers got their knickers Corey's
in a tight and powerful knot at the idea that > (sic) site, read the first page, and look away in
axe-grinding yahoos were filling the Amazon > disgust -- this book is for people who think Dan
message-boards with ill-considered slams at > Brown's Da Vinci Code is great writing.
their work -- for, if a personal recommendation
is the best way to sell a book, then certainly Back in the old days, this kind of thing would 514

a personal condemnation is the best way have really pissed me off. Axe-grinding,
to not sell a book. Today, the trolls are still mouth-breathing yahoos, defaming my good
with us, but now, the readers get to decide name! My stars and mittens! But take a
for themselves. Here's a bit of a review of closer look at that damning passage:
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom that was 515

recently posted to Amazon by “A reader from [PULL-QUOTE]

Redwood City, CA”: �gt� Download it for free from Corey's site, read the
[QUOTED TEXT] > page
�gt� I am really not sure what kind of drugs critics
You see that? Hell, this guy is working for me! 516
> smoking, or what kind of payola may be involved.
But accuses a writer I'm thinking of reading
> regardless of what Entertainment Weekly says, what-
of paying off Entertainment Weekly to say
ever nice things about his novel, “a surprisingly
> this newspaper or that magazine says, you bad writer,” no less, whose writing is “stiff,
shouldn't amateurish, and uninspired!” I wanna check

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that writer out. And I can. In one click. And ebook's distinctive value propositions -- that
then I can make up my own mind. is, the more you restrict a reader's ability
to copy, transport or transform an ebook --
517 You don't get far in the arts without healthy
the more it has to be valued on the same
doses of both ego and insecurity, and the
axes as a paper-book. Ebooks fail on those
downside of being able to google up all the
axes. Ebooks don't beat paper-books for
things that people are saying about your book
sophisticated typography, they can't match
is that it can play right into your insecurities
them for quality of paper or the smell of the
-- “all these people will have it in their minds
glue. But just try sending a paper book to a
not to bother with my book because they've
friend in Brazil, for free, in less than a second.
read the negative interweb reviews!” But the
Or loading a thousand paper books into a
flipside of that is the ego: “If only they'd give
little stick of flash-memory dangling from your
it a shot, they'd see how good it is.” And
keychain. Or searching a paper book for
the more scathing the review is, the more
every instance of a character's name to find
likely they are to give it a shot. Any press
a beloved passage. Hell, try clipping a pithy
is good press, so long as they spell your
passage out of a paper book and pasting it
URL right (and even if they spell your name
into your sig-file.
518 5. Ebooks need to embrace their nature. 6. Ebooks demand a different attention span 519

[Ebooks need to embrace their nature.] The (but not a shorter one). [Ebooks demand a dif-
distinctive value of ebooks is orthogonal to ferent attention span (but not a shorter one).]
the value of paper books, and it revolves Artists are always disappointed by their audi-
around the mix-ability and send-ability of ence's attention-spans. Go back far enough
electronic text. The more you constrain an and you'll find cuneiform etchings bemoaning

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the current Sumerian go-go lifestyle with its Nietzsche's “Genealogy of Morals,” published
insistence on myths with plotlines and char- in 1887.
acters and action, not like we had in the old
Yeah, our attention-spans are different today, 522
days. As artists, it would be a hell of a lot eas-
but they aren't necessarily shorter. Warren
ier if our audiences were more tolerant of our
Ellis's fans managed to hold the storyline for
penchant for boring them. We'd get to explore
Transmetropolitan [Transmet cover] in their
a lot more ideas without worrying about tarting
minds for five years while the story trickled out
them up with easy-to-swallow chocolate coat-
in monthly funnybook installments. JK Rowl-
ings of entertainment. We like to think of short-
ings's installments on the Harry Potter series
ened attention spans as a product of the infor-
get fatter and fatter with each new volume.
mation age, but check this out:
Entire forests are sacrificed to long-running
series fiction like Robert Jordan's Wheel of
[Nietzsche quote] Time books, each of which is approximately
�gt� To be sure one thing necessary above all: if one is 20,000 pages long (I may be off by an order
of magnitude one way or another here).
> practice reading as an *art* in this way, some-
thing Sure, presidential debates are conducted
> needs to be un-learned most thoroughly in these in soundbites today and not the days-long
days. oratory extravaganzas of the Lincoln-Douglas
debates, but people manage to pay attention
521 In other words, if my book is too boring, it's
to the 24-month-long presidential campaigns
because you're not paying enough attention.
from start to finish.
Writers say this stuff all the time, but this quote
isn't from this century or the last. [Nietzsche 7. We need all the ebooks. [We need all the 523

quote with attribution] It's from the preface to ebooks] The vast majority of the words ever

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penned are lost to posterity. No one library large collection of electronic text differs from
collects all the still-extant books ever written a small one: it's the difference between a
and no one person could hope to make a dent single book, a shelf full of books and a library
in that corpus of written work. None of us will of books. Scale makes things different. Take
ever read more than the tiniest sliver of human the Web: none of us can hope to read even a
literature. But that doesn't mean that we can fraction of all the pages on the Web, but by
stick with just the most popular texts and get analyzing the link structures that bind all those
a proper ebook revolution. pages together, Google is able to actually
tease out machine-generated conclusions
524 For starters, we're all edge-cases. Sure, we
about the relative relevance of different pages
all have the shared desire for the core canon
to different queries. None of us will ever eat
of literature, but each of us want to complete
the whole corpus, but Google can digest it
that collection with different texts that are as
for us and excrete the steaming nuggets of
distinctive and individualistic as fingerprints.
goodness that make it the search-engine
If we all look like we're doing the same thing
miracle it is today.
when we read, or listen to music, or hang out
in a chatroom, that's because we're not look-
8. Ebooks are like paper books. [Ebooks are 526
ing closely enough. The shared-ness of our
like paper books]. To round out this talk, I'd
experience is only present at a coarse level of
like to go over the ways that ebooks are more
measurement: once you get into really granu-
like paper books than you'd expect. One of
lar observation, there are as many differences
the truisms of retail theory is that purchasers
in our “shared” experience as there are simi-
need to come into contact with a good sev-
eral times before they buy -- seven contacts
525 More than that, though, is the way that a is tossed around as the magic number. That

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means that my readers have to hear the title, book bought it, I'd be a happy author. And I
see the cover, pick up the book, read a review, am. Those downloads cost me no more than
and so forth, seven times, on average, before glances at the cover in a bookstore, and the
they're ready to buy. sales are healthy.
We also like to think of physical books as 528
527 There's a temptation to view downloading
being inherently countable in a way that digital
a book as comparable to bringing it home
books aren't (an irony, since computers are
from the store, but that's the wrong metaphor.
damned good at counting things!). This is
Some of the time, maybe most of the time,
important, because writers get paid on the
downloading the text of the book is like taking
basis of the number of copies of their books
it off the shelf at the store and looking at
that sell, so having a good count makes a dif-
the cover and reading the blurbs (with the
ference. And indeed, my royalty statements
advantage of not having to come into contact
contain precise numbers for copies printed,
with the residual DNA and burger king left
shipped, returned and sold.
behind by everyone else who browsed the
book before you). Some writers are horrified But that's a false precision. When the printer 529

at the idea that three hundred thousand does a run of a book, it always runs a few
copies of my first novel were downloaded extra at the start and finish of the run to
and “only” ten thousand or so were sold so make sure that the setup is right and to
far. If it were the case that for ever copy sold, account for the occasional rip, drop, or spill.
thirty were taken home from the store, that The actual total number of books printed is
would be a horrifying outcome, for sure. But approximately the number of books ordered,
look at it another way: if one out of every but never exactly -- if you've ever ordered
thirty people who glanced at the cover of my 500 wedding invitations, chances are you

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received 500-and-a-few back from the printer formance. And it's good enough for counting
and that's why. how many copies of a book are distributed
online or off.
530 And the numbers just get fuzzier from there.
Copies are stolen. Copies are dropped. Counts of paper books are differently precise 532

Shipping people get the count wrong. Some from counts of electronic books, sure: but nei-
copies end up in the wrong box and go to ther one is inherently countable.
a bookstore that didn't order them and isn't
And finally, of course, there's the matter of 533
invoiced for them and end up on a sale table
selling books. However an author earns her
or in the trash. Some copies are returned
living from her words, printed or encoded, she
as damaged. Some are returned as un-
has as her first and hardest task to find her
sold. Some come back to the store the next
audience. There are more competitors for our
morning accompanied by a whack of buyer's
attention than we can possibly reconcile, pri-
remorse. Some go to the place where the
oritize or make sense of. Getting a book under
spare sock in the dryer ends up.
the right person's nose, with the right pitch, is
531 The numbers on a royalty statement are the hardest and most important task any writer
actuarial, not actual. They represent a kind faces.
of best-guess approximation of the copies
shipped, sold, returned and so forth. Actuarial
accounting works pretty well: well enough to I care about books, a lot. I started working 534

run the juggernaut banking, insurance, and in libraries and bookstores at the age of 12
gambling industries on. It's good enough and kept at it for a decade, until I was lured
for divvying up the royalties paid by musical away by the siren song of the tech world. I
rights societies for radio airplay and live per- knew I wanted to be a writer at the age of 12,

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and now, 20 years later, I have three novels, “book” was something produced by many
a short story collection and a nonfiction book months' labor by a scribe, usually a monk,
out, two more novels under contract, and an- on some kind of durable and sexy substrate
other book in the works. [BOOK COVERS] like foetal lambskin. [ILLUMINATED BIBLE]
I've won a major award in my genre, science Gutenberg's xerox machine changed all that,
fiction, [CAMPBELL AWARD] and I'm nomi- changed a book into something that could be
nated for another one, the 2003 Nebula Award simply run off a press in a few minutes' time,
for best novelette. [NEBULA] on substrate more suitable to ass-wiping
than exaltation in a place of honor in the
535 I own a lot of books. Easily more than 10,000
cathedral. The Gutenberg press meant that
of them, in storage on both coasts of the North
rather than owning one or two books, a
American continent [LIBRARY LADDER]. I
member of the ruling class could amass a
have to own them, since they're the tools
library, and that rather than picking only a
of my trade: the reference works I refer to
few subjects from enshrinement in print, a
as a novelist and writer today. Most of the
huge variety of subjects could be addressed
literature I dig is very short-lived, it disap-
on paper and handed from person to person.
pears from the shelf after just a few months,
usually for good. Science fiction is inherently
ephemeral. [ACE DOUBLES]
Most new ideas start with a precious few 537

536 Now, as much as I love books, I love com- certainties and a lot of speculation. I've been
puters, too. Computers are fundamentally doing a bunch of digging for certainties and
different from modern books in the same way a lot of speculating lately, and the purpose
that printed books are different from monastic of this talk is to lay out both categories of
Bibles: they are malleable. Time was, a ideas.

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538 This all starts with my first novel, Down and nuvoMedia Rocketbook [ROCKETBOOK].
Out in the Magic Kingdom [COVER], which The other meaning for ebook is a “pirate”
came out on January 9, 2003. At that time, or unauthorized electronic edition of a book,
there was a lot of talk in my professional usually made by cutting the binding off of a
circles about, on the one hand, the dismal book and scanning it a page at a time, then
failure of ebooks, and, on the other, the running the resulting bitmaps through an
new and scary practice of ebook “piracy.” optical character recognition app to convert
[alt.binaries.e-books screengrab] It was them into ASCII text, to be cleaned up by
strikingly weird that no one seemed to notice hand. These books are pretty buggy, full of
that the idea of ebooks as a “failure” was at errors introduced by the OCR. A lot of my
strong odds with the notion that electronic colleagues worry that these books also have
book “piracy” was worth worrying about: I deliberate errors, created by mischievous
mean, if ebooks are a failure, then who gives book-rippers who cut, add or change text in
a rats if intarweb dweebs are trading them on order to “improve” the work. Frankly, I have
Usenet? never seen any evidence that any book-ripper
is interested in doing this, and until I do, I
539 A brief digression here, on the double mean- think that this is the last thing anyone should
ing of “ebooks.” One meaning for that word be worrying about.
is “legitimate” ebook ventures, that is to
say, rightsholder-authorized editions of the Back to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 540

texts of books, released in a proprietary, [COVER]. Well, not yet. I want to convey
use-restricted format, sometimes for use on a to you the depth of the panic in my field
general-purpose PC and sometimes for use over ebook piracy, or “bookwarez” as it is
on a special-purpose hardware device like the known in book-ripper circles. Writers were

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joining the discussion on alt.binaries.ebooks > Instantly going to Defcon One over it and claiming it's
using assumed names, claiming fear of morally
retaliation from scary hax0r kids who would > tantamount to mugging little old ladies in the street will
presumably screw up their credit-ratings make
in retaliation for being called thieves. My > it kind of difficult to move forward from that position when
editor, a blogger, hacker and guy-in-charge-
of-the-largest-sf-line-in-the-world named > doesn't work. In the 1970s, the record industry shrieked
Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted to one of the
> "home taping is killing music." It's hard for ordinary folks
threads in the newsgroup, saying, in part to
> avoid noticing that music didn't die. But the record in-
541 dustry's
�gt� Pirating copyrighted etext on Usenet and elsewhere > credibility on the subject wasn't exactly en-
is going to hanced.
> happen more and more, for the same reasons that ev-
eryday folks Patrick and I have a long relationship, starting 542

> make audio cassettes from vinyl LPs and audio CDs, when I was 18 years old and he kicked in
and toward a scholarship fund to send me to
> videocassette copies of store-bought videotapes. Partly a writers' workshop, continuing to a fateful
lunch in New York in the mid-Nineties when
> greed; partly it's annoyance over retail prices; partly it's
I showed him a bunch of Project Guten-
> desire to Share Cool Stuff (a motivation usually under-
berg texts on my Palm Pilot and inspired
rated by him to start licensing Tor's titles for PDAs
> the victims of this kind of small-time hand-level [PEANUTPRESS SCREENGRAB], to the
piracy). turn-of-the-millennium when he bought and

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then published my first novel (he's bought something more usually left up to judges in
three more since -- I really like Patrick!). the light of extensive amicus briefings from
esteemed copyright scholars [WIND DONE
543 Right as bookwarez newsgroups were taking
off, I was shocked silly by legal action by one
of my colleagues against AOL/Time-Warner This was a stupendously dumb idea, and it of- 545

for carrying the alt.binaries.ebooks news- fended me down to my boots. Writers are sup-
group. This writer alleged that AOL should posed to be advocates of free expression, not
have a duty to remove this newsgroup, since censorship. It seemed that some of my col-
it carried so many infringing files, and that leagues loved the First Amendment, but they
its failure to do so made it a contributory were reluctant to share it with the rest of the
infringer, and so liable for the incredibly world.
stiff penalties afforded by our newly minted Well, dammit, I had a book coming out, and 546
copyright laws like the No Electronic Theft it seemed to be an opportunity to try to figure
Act and the loathsome Digital Millennium out a little more about this ebook stuff. On the
Copyright Act or DMCA. one hand, ebooks were a dismal failure. On
544 Now there was a scary thought: there were the other hand, there were more books posted
people out there who thought the world would to alt.binaries.ebooks every day.
be a better place if ISPs were given the This leads me into the two certainties I have 547
duty of actively policing and censoring the about ebooks:
websites and newsfeeds their customers had
access to, including a requirement that ISPs 1. More people are reading more words off 548

needed to determine, all on their own, what more screens every day [GRAPHIC]
was an unlawful copyright infringement -- 2. Fewer people are reading fewer words off 549

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fewer pages every day [GRAPHIC] screen resolutions are too low to replace pa-
per, then how come everyone I know spends
550 These two certainties begged a lot of ques-
more time reading off a screen every year,
up to and including my sainted grandmother
551 [CHART: EBOOK FAILINGS] (geeks have a really crappy tendency to ar-
gue that certain technologies aren't ready for
552 • Screen resolutions are too low to effectively primetime because their grandmothers won't
replace paper use them -- well, my grandmother sends me
553 • People want to own physical books because email all the time. She types 70 words per
of their visceral appeal (often this is accom- minute, and loves to show off grandsonular
panied by a little sermonette on how good email to her pals around the pool at her Florida
books smell, or how good they look on a retirement condo)?
bookshelf, or how evocative an old curry The other arguments were a lot more interest- 558

stain in the margin can be) ing, though. It seemed to me that electronic
books are different from paper books, and
554 • You can't take your ebook into the tub have different virtues and failings. Let's think
555 • You can't read an ebook without power and a little about what the book has gone through
a computer in years gone by. This is interesting because
the history of the book is the history of the
556 • File-formats go obsolete, paper has lasted Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Pilgrims,
for a long time and, ultimately the colonizing of the Americas
and the American Revolution.
557 None of these seemed like very good expla-
nations for the “failure” of ebooks to me. If Broadly speaking, there was a time when 559

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books were hand-printed on rare leather by typographical expressiveness that a really

monks. The only people who could read them talented monk could bring to bear when
were priests, who got a regular eyeful of the writing out the word of God
really cool cartoons the monks drew in the
margins. The priests read the books aloud, • Luther Bibles were utterly unsuited to the 564

in Latin [LATIN BIBLE] (to a predominantly traditional use-case for Bibles. A good
non-Latin-speaking audience) in cathedrals, Bible was supposed to reinforce the au-
wreathed in pricey incense that rose from thority of the man at the pulpit. It needed
censers swung by altar boys. heft, it needed impressiveness, and most
of all, it needed rarity.
560 Then Johannes Gutenberg invented the print-
ing press. Martin Luther turned that press into • The user-experience of Luther Bibles 565

a revolution. [LUTHER BIBLE] He printed sucked. There was no incense, no altar

Bibles in languages that non-priests could boys, and who (apart from the priesthood)
read, and distributed them to normal people knew that reading was so friggin' hard on
who got to read the word of God all on their the eyes?
own. The rest, as they say, is history. • Luther Bibles were a lot less trustworthy 566

561 Here are some interesting things to note about than the illuminated numbers. Anyone with
the advent of the printing press: a press could run one off, subbing in any
apocryphal text he wanted -- and who knew
how accurate that translation was? Monks
563 • Luther Bibles lacked the manufacturing had an entire Papacy behind them, running
quality of the illuminated Bibles. They a quality-assurance operation that had
were comparatively cheap and lacked the stood Europe in good stead for centuries.

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567 In the late nineties, I went to conferences • They birthed a printing-press ecosystem in 572

where music execs patiently explained that which lots of books flourished. New kinds of
Napster was doomed, because you didn't fiction, poetry, politics, scholarship and so
get any cover-art or liner-notes with it, you on were all enabled by the printing presses
couldn't know if the rip was any good, and whose initial popularity was spurred by
sometimes the connection would drop mid- Luther's ideas about religion.
download. I'm sure that many Cardinals
Note that all of these virtues are orthogonal to 573
espoused the points raised above with equal
the virtues of a monkish Bible. That is, none
of the things that made the Gutenberg press
568 What the record execs and the cardinals a success were the things that made monk-
missed was all the ways that Luther Bibles Bibles a success.
kicked ass:
By the same token, the reasons to love 574

569 [CHART: WHY LUTHER BIBLES KICKED ebooks have precious little to do with the
ASS] reasons to love paper books.
570 • They were cheap and fast. Loads of peo- [CHART: WHY EBOOKS KICK ASS] 575

ple could acquire them without having to

subject themselves to the authority and ap- • They are easy to share. Secrets of Ya-Ya 576

proval of the Church Sisterhood went from a midlist title to a best-

seller by being passed from hand to hand
571 • They were in languages that non-priests by women in reading circles. Slashdorks
could read. You no longer had to take and other netizens have social life as rich
the Church's word for it when its priests as reading-circlites, but they don't ever get
explained what God really meant to see each other face to face; the only kind

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of book they can pass from hand to hand because it could get us the top-40 tracks
is an ebook. What's more, the single factor that we could hear just by snapping on the
most correlated with a purchase is a recom- radio: it was because 80 percent of the
mendation from a friend -- getting a book music ever recorded wasn't available for
recommended by a pal is more likely to sell sale anywhere in the world, and in that 80
you on it than having read and enjoyed the percent were all the songs that had ever
preceding volume in a series! touched us, all the earworms that had been
lodged in our hindbrains, all the stuff that
577 • They are easy to slice and dice. This is made us smile when we heard it. Those
where the Mac evangelist in me comes songs are different for all of us, but they
out -- minority platforms matter. It's a share the trait of making the difference
truism of the Napsterverse that most of between a compelling service and, well,
the files downloaded are bog-standard top-40 Clearchannel radio programming.
top-40 tracks, like 90 percent or so, and I It was the minority of tracks that appealed
believe it. We all want to popular music. to the majority of us. By the same token,
That's why it's popular. But the interesting the malleability of electronic text means
thing is the other ten percent. Bill Gates that it can be readily repurposed: you can
told the New York Times that Microsoft throw it on a webserver or convert it to a
lost the search wars by doing “a good format for your favorite PDA; you can ask
job on the 80 percent of common queries your computer to read it aloud or you can
and ignor[ing] the other stuff. But it's the search the text for a quotation to cite in a
remaining 20 percent that counts, because book report or to use in your sig. In other
that's where the quality perception is.” Why words, most people who download the
did Napster captivate so many of us? Not

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book do so for the predictable reason, and world at little-to-no cost. It follows from this
in a predictable format -- say, to sample a that the center of the ebook experience is go-
chapter in the HTML format before deciding ing to involve slicing and dicing text and send-
whether to buy the book -- but the thing that ing it around.
differentiates a boring e-text experience
Copyright lawyers have a word for these 580
from an exciting one is the minority use --
activities: infringement. That's because copy-
printing out a couple chapters of the book
right gives creators a near-total monopoly
to bring to the beach rather than risk getting
over copying and remixing of their work,
the hardcopy wet and salty.
pretty much forever (theoretically, copyright
578 Tool-makers and software designers are in- expires, but in actual practice, copyright gets
creasingly aware of the notion of “affordances” extended every time the early Mickey Mouse
in design. You can bash a nail into the wall cartoons are about to enter the public domain,
with any heavy, heftable object from a rock because Disney swings a very big stick on
to a hammer to a cast-iron skillet. However, the Hill).
there's something about a hammer that cries
This is a huge problem. The biggest possible 581
out for nail-bashing, it has affordances that tilt
problem. Here's why:
its holder towards swinging it. And, as we all
know, when all you have is a hammer, every- [CHART: HOW BROKEN COPYRIGHT 582

thing starts to look like a nail. SCREWS EVERYONE]

579 The affordance of a computer -- the thing it's • Authors freak out. Authors have been 583

designed to do -- is to slice-and-dice collec- schooled by their peers that strong copy-

tions of bits. The affordance of the Internet right is the only thing that keeps them from
is to move bits at very high speed around the getting savagely rogered in the market-

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place. This is pretty much true: it's strong • Liability goes through the roof. Copyright 586

copyright that often defends authors from infringement, especially on the Net, is a su-
their publishers' worst excesses. How- percrime. It carries penalties of $150,000
ever, it doesn't follow that strong copyright per infringement, and aggrieved rights-
protects you from your readers. holders and their representatives have all
kinds of special powers, like the ability to
584 • Readers get indignant over being called force an ISP to turn over your personal
crooks. Seriously. You're a small busi- information before showing evidence of
nessperson. Readers are your customers. your alleged infringement to a judge. This
Calling them crooks is bad for business. means that anyone who suspects that he
might be on the wrong side of copyright
585 • Publishers freak out. Publishers freak out, law is going to be terribly risk-averse: pub-
because they're in the business of grabbing lishers non-negotiably force their authors
as much copyright as they can and hang- to indemnify them from infringement claims
ing onto it for dear life because, dammit, and go one better, forcing writers to prove
you never know. This is why science fiction that they have “cleared” any material they
magazines try to trick writers into signing quote, even in the case of brief fair-use
over improbable rights for things like theme quotations, like song-titles at the opening of
park rides and action figures based on their chapters. The result is that authors end up
work -- it's also why literary agents are now assuming potentially life-destroying liability,
asking for copyright-long commissions on are chilled from quoting material around
the books they represent: copyright covers them, and are scared off of public domain
so much ground and takes to long to shake texts because an honest mistake about the
off, who wouldn't want a piece of it?

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public-domain status of a work carries such to the public domain.

a terrible price.
This isn't to say that copyright is bad, but that 588

587 • Posterity vanishes. In the Eldred v. Ashcroft there's such a thing as good copyright and bad
Supreme Court hearing last year, the court copyright, and that sometimes, too much good
found that 98 percent of the works in copyright is a bad thing. It's like chilis in soup:
copyright are no longer earning money for a little goes a long way, and too much spoils
anyone, but that figuring out who these the broth.
old works belong to with the degree of From the Luther Bible to the first phonorecords, 589
certainty that you'd want when one mistake from radio to the pulps, from cable to MP3,
means total economic apocalypse would the world has shown that its first preference
cost more than you could ever possibly for new media is its “democratic-ness” -- the
earn on them. That means that 98 percent ease with which it can reproduced.
of works will largely expire long before the
copyright on them does. Today, the names (And please, before we get any farther, forget 590

of science fiction's ancestral founders -- all that business about how the Internet's
Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar copying model is more disruptive than the
Allan Poe, Jules Verne, HG Wells -- are technologies that proceeded it. For Christ's
still known, their work still a part of the sake, the Vaudeville performers who sued
discourse. Their spiritual descendants Marconi for inventing the radio had to go from
from Hugo Gernsback onward may not be a regime where they had one hundred percent
so lucky -- if their work continues to be control over who could get into the theater and
“protected” by copyright, it might just vanish hear them perform to a regime where they
from the face of the earth before it reverts had zero percent control over who could build

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or acquire a radio and tune into a recording got is monks, every book takes on the char-
of them performing. For that matter, look at acter of a monkish Bible. Once you invent the
the difference between a monkish Bible and printing press, all the books that are better-
a Luther Bible -- next to that phase-change, suited to movable type migrate into that new
Napster is peanuts) form. What's left behind are those items that
are best suited to the old production scheme:
591 Back to democratic-ness. Every successful
the plays that need to be plays, the books that
new medium has traded off its artifact-ness
are especially lovely on creamy paper stitched
-- the degree to which it was populated by
between covers, the music that is most en-
bespoke hunks of atoms, cleverly nailed to-
joyable performed live and experienced in a
gether by master craftspeople -- for ease of
throng of humanity.
reproduction. Piano rolls weren't as expres-
sive as good piano players, but they scaled Increased democratic-ness translates into de- 593

better -- as did radio broadcasts, pulp mag- creased control: it's a lot harder to control who
azines, and MP3s. Liner notes, hand illumi- can copy a book once there's a photocopier
nation and leather bindings are nice, but they on every corner than it is when you need a
pale in comparison to the ability of an individ- monastery and several years to copy a Bible.
ual to actually get a copy of her own. And that decreased control demands a new
copyright regime that rebalances the rights of
592 Which isn't to say that old media die. Artists
creators with their audiences.
still hand-illuminate books; master pianists still
stride the boards at Carnegie Hall, and the For example, when the VCR was invented, 594

shelves burst with tell-all biographies of mu- the courts affirmed a new copyright exemption
sicians that are richer in detail than any liner- for time-shifting; when the radio was invented,
notes booklet. The thing is, when all you've the Congress granted an anti-trust exemption

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to the record labels in order to secure a blan- thing I'd like to do before I get off the stage.
ket license; when cable TV was invented, the [Lagniappe: an unexpected bonus or extra]
government just ordered the broadcasters to Think of it as a “lagniappe” -- a little something
sell the cable-operators access to program- extra to thank you for your patience.
ming at a fixed rate.
About a year ago, I released my first novel, 599

595 Copyright is perennially out of date, because Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, on the
its latest rev was generated in response to the net, under the terms of the most restrictive
last generation of technology. The temptation Creative Commons license available. All it
to treat copyright as though it came down off allowed my readers to do was send around
the mountain on two stone tablets (or worse, copies of the book. I was cautiously dipping
as “just like” real property) is deeply flawed, my toe into the water, though at the time, it
since, by definition, current copyright only felt like I was taking a plunge.
considers the last generation of tech. Now I'm going to take a plunge. Today, 600

596 So, are bookwarez in violation of copyright I will re-license the text of Down and Out
law? Duh. Is this the end of the world? Duh. in the Magic Kingdom under a Creative
If the Catholic church can survive the printing Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike-Derivs-
press, science fiction will certainly weather the Noncommercial” license [HUMAN READ-
advent of bookwarez. ABLE LICENSE], which means that as of
today, you have my blessing to create deriva-
# tive works from my first book. You can make
movies, audiobooks, translations, fan-fiction,
597 Lagniappe [Lagniappe]
slash fiction (God help us) [GEEK HIERAR-
598 We're almost done here, but there's one more CHY], furry slash fiction [GEEK HIERARCHY

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DETAIL], poetry, translations, t-shirts, you 18. Free(konomic) E-books 604

name it, with two provisos: that one, you

have to allow everyone else to rip, mix and (Originally published in Locus Magazine,
burn your creations in the same way you're September 2007)
hacking mine; and on the other hand, you've
Can giving away free electronic books really 605
got to do it noncommercially.
sell printed books? I think so. As I explained
601 The sky didn't fall when I dipped my toe in. in my March column (“You Do Like Reading
Let's see what happens when I get in up to Off a Computer Screen”), I don't believe that
my knees. most readers want to read long-form works off
a screen, and I don't believe that they will ever
602 The text with the new license will be on-
want to read long-form works off a screen. As
line before the end of the day. Check
I say in the column, the problem with reading
craphound.com/down for details.
off a screen isn't resolution, eyestrain, or com-
603 Oh, and I'm also releasing the text of this patibility with reading in the bathtub: it's that
speech under a Creative Commons Public computers are seductive, they tempt us to do
Domain dedication, [Public domain dedica- other things, making concentrating on a long-
tion] giving it away to the world to do with as form work impractical.
it see fits. It'll be linked off my blog, Boing
Sure, some readers have the cognitive 606
Boing, before the day is through.
quirk necessary to read full-length works off
$$$$ screens, or are motivated to do so by other
circumstances (such as being so broke that
they could never hope to buy the printed
work). The rational question isn't, “Will giving

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away free e-books cost me sales?” but rather, leases to tie in with the print release of their
“Will giving away free e-books win me more works. To the best of my knowledge, every
sales than it costs me?” writer who's tried this has repeated the
experiment with future works, suggesting
607 This is a very hard proposition to evaluate in a a high degree of satisfaction with the
quantitative way. Books aren't lattes or cable- outcomes
knit sweaters: each book sells (or doesn't)
due to factors that are unique to that title. It's • A writer friend of mine had his first novel 610

hard to imagine an empirical, controlled study come out at the same time as mine.
in which two “equivalent” books are published, We write similar material and are often
and one is also available as a free download, compared to one another by critics and
the other not, and the difference calculated as reviewers. My first novel had a free down-
a means of “proving” whether e-books hurt or load, his didn't. We compared sales figures
help sales in the long run. and I was doing substantially better than
him -- he subsequently convinced his
608 I've released all of my novels as free down- publisher to let him follow suit
loads simultaneous with their print publication.
If I had a time machine, I could re-release • Baen Books has a pretty good handle 611

them without the free downloads and compare on expected sales for new volumes in
the royalty statements. Lacking such a de- long-running series; having sold many such
vice, I'm forced to draw conclusions from qual- series, they have lots of data to use in sales
itative, anecdotal evidence, and I've collected estimates. If Volume N sells X copies, we
plenty of that: expect Volume N+1 to sell Y copies. They
report that they have seen a measurable
609 • Many writers have tried free e-book re- uptick in sales following from free e-book

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releases of previous and current volumes a pretty detailed picture of the sales-cycle
of this book -- and, thanks to industry
612 • David Blackburn, a Harvard PhD candidate
standard metrics like those provided by
in economics, published a paper in 2004 in
Bookscan, they could compare it, apples-
which he calculated that, for music, “piracy”
to-apples style, against the performance
results in a net increase in sales for all titles
of competing books treating with the same
in the 75th percentile and lower; negligible
subject. O'Reilly's conclusion: downloads
change in sales for the “middle class” of
didn't cause a decline in sales, and appears
titles between the 75th percentile and the
to have resulted in a lift in sales. This is
97th percentile; and a small drag on the
particularly noteworthy because the book
“super-rich” in the 97th percentile and
in question is a technical reference work,
higher. Publisher Tim O'Reilly describes
exclusively consumed by computer pro-
this as “piracy's progressive taxation,”
grammers who are by definition disposed
apportioning a small wealth-redistribution
to read off screens. Also, this is a reference
to the vast majority of works, no net change
work and therefore is more likely to be
to the middle, and a small cost on the
useful in electronic form, where it can be
richest few
easily searched
613 • Speaking of Tim O'Reilly, he has just pub-
lished a detailed, quantitative study of the • In my case, my publishers have gone back 614

effect of free downloads on a single title. to press repeatedly for my books. The print
O'Reilly Media published Asterisk: The runs for each edition are modest -- I'm a
Future of Telephony, in November 2005, midlist writer in a world with a shrinking
simultaneously releasing the book as a midlist -- but publishers print what they
free download. By March 2007, they had think they can sell, and they're outselling

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their expectations is selling the hell out of them.

615 • The new opportunities arising from my More importantly, the free e-book skeptics 618

free downloads are so numerous as to be have no evidence to offer in support of

uncountable -- foreign rights deals, comic their position -- just hand-waving and dark
book licenses, speaking engagements, muttering about a mythological future when
article commissions -- I've made more book-lovers give up their printed books for
money in these secondary markets than I electronic book-readers (as opposed to the
have in royalties much more plausible future where book
lovers go on buying their fetish objects
616 • More anecdotes: I've had literally thousands and carry books around on their electronic
of people approach me by e-mail and at devices).
signings and cons to say, “I found your work
online for free, got hooked, and started buy- I started giving away e-books after I wit- 619

ing it.” By contrast, I've had all of five e-mails nessed the early days of the “bookwarez”
from people saying, “Hey, idiot, thanks for scene, wherein fans cut the binding off
the free book, now I don't have to buy the their favorite books, scanned them, ran
print edition, ha ha!” them through optical character recognition
software, and manually proofread them to
617 Many of us have assumed, a priori, that elec- eliminate the digitization errors. These fans
tronic books substitute for print books. While were easily spending 80 hours to rip their
I don't have controlled, quantitative data to re- favorite books, and they were only ripping
fute the proposition, I do have plenty of expe- their favorite books, books they loved and
rience with this stuff, and all that experience wanted to share. (The 80-hour figure comes
leads me to believe that giving away my books from my own attempt to do this -- I'm sure that

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rippers get faster with practice.) of creative works launched: the Creative
Commons project (CC). CC offers a set of
620 I thought to myself that 80 hours' free promo- tools that make it easy to mark works with
tional effort would be a good thing to have whatever freedoms the author wants to give
at my disposal when my books entered the away. CC launched in 2003 and today, more
market. What if I gave my readers clean, than 160,000,000 works have been released
canonical electronic editions of my works, under its licenses.
saving them the bother of ripping them, and
so freed them up to promote my work to their My next column will go into more detail on 623

friends? what CC is, what licenses it offers, and how

to use them -- but for now, check them out on-
621 After all, it's not like there's any conceivable line at creativecommons.org.
way to stop people from putting books on
scanners if they really want to. Scanners $$$$
aren't going to get more expensive or slower.
The Internet isn't going to get harder to use.
Better to confront this challenge head on,
turn it into an opportunity, than to rail against
the future (I'm a science fiction writer --
tuning into the future is supposed to be my
622 The timing couldn't have been better. Just
as my first novel was being published, a
new, high-tech project for promoting sharing

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624 19. The Progressive Apocalypse and Other a book so futuristic it could only have been
Futurismic Delights set in 2006, a book that exploits retrospective
historical distance to let us glimpse just how
(Originally published in Locus Magazine, July alien and futuristic our present day is.
Science fiction writers aren't the only people in 627

625 Of course, science fiction is a literature of the the business of predicting the future. Futurists
present. Many's the science fiction writer who -- consultants, technology columnists, ana-
uses the future as a warped mirror for reflect- lysts, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurial
ing back the present day, angled to illustrate pitchmen -- spill a lot of ink, phosphors, and
the hidden strangeness buried by our invisible caffeinated hot air in describing a vision for a
assumptions: Orwell turned 1948 into Nine- future where we'll get more and more of what-
teen Eighty-Four. But even when the fictional ever it is they want to sell us or warn us away
future isn't a parable about the present day, from. Tomorrow will feature faster, cheaper
it is necessarily a creation of the present day, processors, more Internet users, ubiquitous
since it reflects the present day biases that in- RFID tags, radically democratic political
fuse the author. Hence Asimov's Foundation, processes dominated by bloggers, massively
a New Deal-esque project to think humanity multiplayer games whose virtual economies
out of its tribulations though social interven- dwarf the physical economy.
There's a lovely neologism to describe these 628

626 Bold SF writers eschew the future altogether, visions: “futurismic.” Futurismic media is that
embracing a futuristic account of the present which depicts futurism, not the future. It is of-
day. William Gibson's forthcoming Spook ten self-serving -- think of the antigrav Nikes in
Country is an act of “speculative presentism,” Back to the Future III -- and it generally doesn't

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hold up well to scrutiny. selves until they reached the next stopping
point. If a member of the landing party were
629 SF films and TV are great fonts of futurismic
eaten by a green-skinned interspatial hippie
imagery: R2D2 is a fully conscious AI, can
or giant toga-wearing galactic tyrant, that
hack the firewall of the Death Star, and
member would be recovered from backup by
is equipped with a range of holographic
the transporter beam. Hell, the entire landing
projectors and antipersonnel devices -- but
party could consist of multiple copies of the
no one has installed a $15 sound card and
most effective crewmember onboard: no
some text-to-speech software on him, so
redshirts, just a half-dozen instances of Kirk
he has to whistle like Harpo Marx. Or take
operating in clonal harmony.
the Starship Enterprise, with a transporter
capable of constituting matter from digitally
Futurism has a psychological explanation, 631
stored plans, and radios that can breach the
as recounted in Harvard clinical psych prof
speed of light.
Daniel Gilbert's 2006 book, Stumbling on
630 The non-futurismic version of NCC-1701 Happiness. Our memories and our projec-
would be the size of a softball (or whatever tions of the future are necessarily imperfect.
the minimum size for a warp drive, trans- Our memories consist of those observations
porter, and subspace radio would be). It our brains have bothered to keep records of,
would zip around the galaxy at FTL speeds woven together with inference and whatever
under remote control. When it reached an in- else is lying around handy when we try to
teresting planet, it would beam a stored copy remember something. Ask someone who's
of a landing party onto the surface, and when eating a great lunch how breakfast was, and
their mission was over, it would beam them odds are she'll tell you it was delicious. Ask
back into storage, annihilating their physical the same question of someone eating rubbery

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airplane food, and he'll tell you his breakfast all the time, and our matured gonads drive
was awful. We weave the past out of our us into frenzies of bizarre, self-destructive
imperfect memories and our observable behavior.
Lapsarianism dominates the Abrahamic 634
632 We make the future in much the same way: faiths. I have an Orthodox Jewish friend
we use reasoning and evidence to predict whose tradition holds that each generation
what we can, and whenever we bump up of rabbis is necessarily less perfect than the
against uncertainty, we fill the void with the rabbis that came before, since each genera-
present day. Hence the injunction on women tion is more removed from the perfection of
soldiers in the future of Starship Troopers, the Garden. Therefore, no rabbi is allowed
or the bizarre, glassed-over “Progressland” to overturn any of his forebears' wisdom,
city diorama at the end of the 1964 World's since they are all, by definition, smarter than
Fair exhibit The Carousel of Progress, which him.
Disney built for GE.
The natural endpoint of Lapsarianism is apoc- 635
633 Lapsarianism -- the idea of a paradise lost, a alypse. If things get worse, and worse, and
fall from grace that makes each year worse worse, eventually they'll just run out of wors-
than the last -- is the predominant future eness. Eventually, they'll bottom out, a kind
feeling for many people. It's easy to see why: of rotten death of the universe when Lapsar-
an imperfectly remembered golden childhood ian entropy hits the nadir and takes us all with
gives way to the worries of adulthood and it.
physical senescence. Surely the world is
getting worse: nothing tastes as good as Running counter to Lapsarianism is progres- 636

it did when we were six, everything hurts sivism: the Enlightenment ideal of a world of

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great people standing on the shoulders of gi- tiple, parallel instances of ourselves. After the
ants. Each of us contributes to improving the Singularity, nothing is predictable because ev-
world's storehouse of knowledge (and thus its erything is possible. We will cease to be hu-
capacity for bringing joy to all of us), and our man and become (as the title of Rudy Rucker's
descendants and proteges take our work and next novel would have it) Postsingular.
improve on it. The very idea of “progress” runs
counter to the idea of Lapsarianism and the The Singularity is what happens when we 640

fall: it is the idea that we, as a species, are have so much progress that we run out of
falling in reverse, combing back the wild tan- progress. It's the apocalypse that ends the
gle of entropy into a neat, tidy braid. human race in rapture and joy. Indeed, Ken
MacLeod calls the Singularity “the rapture of
637 Of course, progress must also have a bound- the nerds,” an apt description for the mirror-
ary condition -- if only because we eventually world progressive version of the Lapsarian
run out of imaginary ways that the human con- apocalypse.
dition can improve. And science fiction has a
name for the upper bound of progress, a name At the end of the day, both progress and the 641

for the progressive apocalypse: fall from grace are illusions. The central thesis
of Stumbling on Happiness is that human
638 We call it the Singularity. beings are remarkably bad at predicting what
will make us happy. Our predictions are
639 Vernor Vinge's Singularity takes place when skewed by our imperfect memories and our
our technology reaches a stage that allows us capacity for filling the future with the present
to “upload” our minds into software, run them day.
at faster, hotter speeds than our neurological
wetware substrate allows for, and create mul- The future is gnarlier than futurism. NCC- 642

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1701 probably wouldn't send out transporter- 20. When the Singularity is More Than a 644

equipped drones -- instead, it would likely find Literary Device: An Interview with
itself on missions whose ethos, mores, and Futurist-Inventor Ray Kurzweil
rationale are largely incomprehensible to us,
and so obvious to its crew that they couldn't (Originally published in Asimov's Science Fic-
hope to explain them. tion Magazine, June 2005)
643 Science fiction is the literature of the present, It's not clear to me whether the Singularity 645
and the present is the only era that we can is a technical belief system or a spiritual
hope to understand, because it's the only era one.
that lets us check our observations and pre-
dictions against reality. The Singularity -- a notion that's crept into a lot 646

of skiffy, and whose most articulate in-genre

$$$$ spokesmodel is Vernor Vinge -- describes the
black hole in history that will be created at
the moment when human intelligence can be
digitized. When the speed and scope of our
cognition is hitched to the price-performance
curve of microprocessors, our “progress” will
double every eighteen months, and then ev-
ery twelve months, and then every ten, and
eventually, every five seconds.
Singularities are, literally, holes in space from 647

whence no information can emerge, and so

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SF writers occasionally mutter about how scientist. He's a serial entrepreneur who
hard it is to tell a story set after the information founded successful businesses that ad-
Singularity. Everything will be different. What vanced the fields of optical character
it means to be human will be so different recognition (machine-reading) software,
that what it means to be in danger, or happy, text-to-speech synthesis, synthetic musi-
or sad, or any of the other elements that cal instrument simulation, computer-based
make up the squeeze-and-release tension speech recognition, and stock-market anal-
in a good yarn will be unrecognizable to us ysis. He cured his own Type-II diabetes
pre-Singletons. through a careful review of the literature and
the judicious application of first principles
648 It's a neat conceit to write around. I've com- and reason. To a casual observer, Kurzweil
mitted Singularity a couple of times, usually appears to be the star of some kind of Hein-
in collaboration with gonzo Singleton Charlie lein novel, stealing fire from the gods and
Stross, the mad antipope of the Singularity. embarking on a quest to bring his maverick
But those stories have the same relation to fu- ideas to the public despite the dismissals
turism as romance novels do to love: a shared of the establishment, getting rich in the
jumping-off point, but radically different mor- process.
649 Of course, the Singularity isn't just a conceit Kurzweil believes in the Singularity. In his 651

for noodling with in the pages of the pulps: it's 1990 manifesto, “The Age of Intelligent Ma-
the subject of serious-minded punditry, futur- chines,” Kurzweil persuasively argued that
ism, and even science. we were on the brink of meaningful machine
intelligence. A decade later, he continued
650 Ray Kurzweil is one such pundit-futurist- the argument in a book called The Age of

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Spiritual Machines, whose most audacious nologies that will assist baby-boomers in
claim is that the world's computational ca- living long enough to see the day when
pacity has been slowly doubling since the technological immortality is achieved.
crust first cooled (and before!), and that the
doubling interval has been growing shorter See what I meant about his being a Heinlein 653

and shorter with each passing year, so that hero?

now we see it reflected in the computer I still don't know if the Singularity is a spiritual 654
industry's Moore's Law, which predicts that or a technological belief system. It has all the
microprocessors will get twice as powerful for trappings of spirituality, to be sure. If you are
half the cost about every eighteen months. pure and kosher, if you live right and if your so-
The breathtaking sweep of this trend has ciety is just, then you will live to see a moment
an obvious conclusion: computers more of Rapture when your flesh will slough away
powerful than people; more powerful than we leaving nothing behind but your ka, your soul,
can comprehend. your consciousness, to ascend to an immortal
and pure state.
652 Now Kurzweil has published two more books,
The Singularity Is Near, When Humans I wrote a novel called Down and Out in the 655

Transcend Biology (Viking, Spring 2005) Magic Kingdom where characters could make
and Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to backups of themselves and recover from them
Live Forever (with Terry Grossman, Rodale, if something bad happened, like catching a
November 2004). The former is a techno- cold or being assassinated. It raises a lot of
logical roadmap for creating the conditions existential questions: most prominently: are
necessary for ascent into Singularity; the you still you when you've been restored from
latter is a book about life-prolonging tech- backup?

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656 The traditional AI answer is the Turing Test, first story into Asimov's seventeen years
invented by Alan Turing, the gay pioneer of ago couldn't answer the question, “Write a
cryptography and artificial intelligence who story for Asimov's” the same way the me
was forced by the British government to of today could. Does that mean I'm not me
take hormone treatments to “cure” him of his anymore?
homosexuality, culminating in his suicide in
1954. Turing cut through the existentialism Kurzweil has the answer. 659

about measuring whether a machine is intelli-

gent by proposing a parlor game: a computer “If you follow that logic, then if you were to 660

sits behind a locked door with a chat program, take me ten years ago, I could not pass for
and a person sits behind another locked door myself in a Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. But
with his own chat program, and they both try once the requisite uploading technology be-
to convince a judge that they are real people. comes available a few decades hence, you
If the computer fools a human judge into could make a perfect-enough copy of me, and
thinking that it's a person, then to all intents it would pass the Ray Kurzweil Turing Test.
and purposes, it's a person. The copy doesn't have to match the quantum
state of my every neuron, either: if you meet
657 So how do you know if the backed-up you that
me the next day, I'd pass the Ray Kurzweil
you've restored into a new body -- or a jar with
Turing Test. Nevertheless, none of the quan-
a speaker attached to it -- is really you? Well,
tum states in my brain would be the same.
you can ask it some questions, and if it an-
There are quite a few changes that each of us
swers the same way that you do, you're talk-
undergo from day to day, we don't examine
ing to a faithful copy of yourself.
the assumption that we are the same person
658 Sounds good. But the me who sent his closely.

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661 “We gradually change our pattern of atoms tion that other human beings are conscious,
and neurons but we very rapidly change the for example. But that breaks down when we
particles the pattern is made up of. We used go outside of humans, when we consider, for
to think that in the brain -- the physical part of example, animals. Some say only humans
us most closely associated with our identity -- are conscious and animals are instinctive
cells change very slowly, but it turns out that and machinelike. Others see humanlike be-
the components of the neurons, the tubules havior in an animal and consider the animal
and so forth, turn over in only days. I'm a conscious, but even these observers don't
completely different set of particles from what generally attribute consciousness to animals
I was a week ago. that aren't humanlike.
662 “Consciousness is a difficult subject, and I'm “When machines are complex enough to have 664
always surprised by how many people talk responses recognizable as emotions, those
about consciousness routinely as if it could machines will be more humanlike than ani-
be easily and readily tested scientifically. But mals.”
we can't postulate a consciousness detector
that does not have some assumptions about The Kurzweil Singularity goes like this: com- 665

consciousness built into it. puters get better and smaller. Our ability to
measure the world gains precision and grows
663 “Science is about objective third party obser- ever cheaper. Eventually, we can measure
vations and logical deductions from them. the world inside the brain and make a copy
Consciousness is about first-person, subjec- of it in a computer that's as fast and complex
tive experience, and there's a fundamental as a brain, and voila, intelligence.
gap there. We live in a world of assumptions
about consciousness. We share the assump- Here in the twenty-first century we like to view 666

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ourselves as ambulatory brains, plugged into really work. A novel is based on language:
meat-puppets that lug our precious grey mat- with language you can conjure up any reality,
ter from place to place. We tend to think of much more so than with images. Turing
that grey matter as transcendently complex, almost lived to see computers doing a good
and we think of it as being the bit that makes job of performing in fields like math, medical
us us. diagnosis and so on, but those tasks were
easier for a machine than demonstrating
667 But brains aren't that complex, Kurzweil says. even a child's mastery of language. Lan-
Already, we're starting to unravel their myster- guage is the true embodiment of human
ies. intelligence.”
668 “We seem to have found one area of the brain If we're not so complex, then it's only a mat- 670
closely associated with higher-level emotions, ter of time until computers are more complex
the spindle cells, deeply embedded in the than us. When that comes, our brains will be
brain. There are tens of thousands of them, model-able in a computer and that's when the
spanning the whole brain (maybe eighty fun begins. That's the thesis of Spiritual Ma-
thousand in total), which is an incredibly small chines, which even includes a (Heinlein-style)
number. Babies don't have any, most animals timeline leading up to this day.
don't have any, and they likely only evolved
over the last million years or so. Some of the Now, it may be that a human brain contains 671

high-level emotions that are deeply human n logic-gates and runs at x cycles per second
come from these. and stores z petabytes, and that n and x and z
are all within reach. It may be that we can take
669 “Turing had the right insight: base the test for a brain apart and record the position and rela-
intelligence on written language. Turing Tests tionships of all the neurons and sub-neuronal

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elements that constitute a brain. the opportunity to perform a computational

task (say, sorting a list of numbers from
672 But there are also a nearly infinite number of greatest to least) and the ones that solve the
ways of modeling a brain in a computer, and problem best are kept aside while the others
only a finite (or possibly nonexistent) fraction are erased. Now the survivors are used as
of that space will yield a conscious copy of the the basis for a new generation of randomly
original meat-brain. Science fiction writers mutated descendants, each based on ele-
usually hand-wave this step: in Heinlein's ments of the code that preceded them. By
“Man Who Sold the Moon,” the gimmick is running many instances of a randomly varied
that once the computer becomes complex program at once, and by culling the least
enough, with enough “random numbers,” it successful and regenerating the population
just wakes up. from the winners very quickly, it is possible
673 Computer programmers are a little more skep- to evolve effective software that performs as
tical. Computers have never been known for well or better than the code written by human
their skill at programming themselves -- they authors.
tend to be no smarter than the people who
write their software. Indeed, evolutionary computing is a promis- 675

ing and exciting field that's realizing real

674 But there are techniques for getting com- returns through cool offshoots like “ant colony
puters to program themselves, based on optimization” and similar approaches that
evolution and natural selection. A program- are showing good results in fields as diverse
mer creates a system that spits out lots -- as piloting military UAVs and efficiently pro-
thousands or even millions -- of randomly visioning car-painting robots at automotive
generated programs. Each one is given plants.

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676 So if you buy Kurzweil's premise that com- evolution: heritable variation of candidates
putation is getting cheaper and more plentiful and a system that culls the least-suitable
than ever, then why not just use evolutionary candidates. This latter -- the fitness-factor
algorithms to evolve the best way to model a that determines which individuals in a cohort
scanned-in human brain such that it “wakes breed and which vanish -- is the key to a
up” like Heinlein's Mike computer? successful evolutionary system. Without it,
there's no pressure for the system to achieve
677 Indeed, this is the crux of Kurzweil's argument
the desired goal: merely mutation and more
in Spiritual Machines: if we have computa-
tion to spare and a detailed model of a hu-
man brain, we need only combine them and But how can a machine evaluate which of a 679

out will pop the mechanism whereby we may trillion models of a human brain is “most like”
upload our consciousness to digital storage a conscious mind? Or better still: which one
media and transcend our weak and bother- is most like the individual whose brain is being
some meat forever.Indeed, this is the crux of modeled?
Kurzweil's argument in Spiritual Machines: if
“It is a sleight of hand in Spiritual Machines,” 680
we have computation to spare and a detailed
Kurzweil admits. “But in The Singularity Is
model of a human brain, we need only com-
Near, I have an in-depth discussion about
bine them and out will pop the mechanism
what we know about the brain and how to
whereby we may upload our consciousness to
model it. Our tools for understanding the
digital storage media and transcend our weak
brain are subject to the Law of Accelerating
and bothersome meat forever.
Returns, and we've made more progress
678 But it's a cheat. Evolutionary algorithms de- in reverse-engineering the human brain
pend on the same mechanisms as real-world than most people realize.” This is a tasty

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Kurzweilism that observes that improvements the early phases of the visual cortex, detail
in technology yield tools for improving tech- doesn't reach the brain.
nology, round and round, so that the thing
“We are getting exponentially more knowl- 683
that progress begets more than anything is
edge. We can get detailed scans of neurons
more and yet faster progress.
working in vivo, and are beginning to un-
681 “Scanning resolution of human tissue -- both derstand the chaotic algorithms underlying
spatial and temporal -- is doubling every year, human intelligence. In some cases, we are
and so is our knowledge of the workings of getting comparable performance of brain re-
the brain. The brain is not one big neural net, gions in simulation. These tools will continue
the brain is several hundred different regions, to grow in detail and sophistication.
and we can understand each region, we can
“We can have confidence of reverse- 684
model the regions with mathematics, most of
engineering the brain in twenty years or
which have some nexus with chaos and self-
so. The reason that brain reverse engineer-
organizing systems. This has already been
ing has not contributed much to artificial
done for a couple dozen regions out of the
intelligence is that up until recently we didn't
several hundred.
have the right tools. If I gave you a computer
682 “We have a good model of a dozen or so re- and a few magnetic sensors and asked you
gions of the auditory and visual cortex, how to reverse-engineer it, you might figure out
we strip images down to very low-resolution that there's a magnetic device spinning when
movies based on pattern recognition. Inter- a file is saved, but you'd never get at the
estingly, we don't actually see things, we es- instruction set. Once you reverse-engineer
sentially hallucinate them in detail from what the computer fully, however, you can express
we see from these low resolution cues. Past its principles of operation in just a few dozen

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pages. of power of computation, number of Internet

nodes, and magnetic spots on a hard disk
685 “Now there are new tools that let us see the in-
-- the rate of paradigm shift is itself accel-
terneuronal connections and their signaling, in
erating, doubling every decade. Scientists
vivo, and in real-time. We're just now getting
look at a problem and they intuitively con-
these tools and there's very rapid application
clude that since we've solved 1 percent over
of the tools to obtain the data.
the last year, it'll therefore be one hundred
686 “Twenty years from now we will have realistic years until the problem is exhausted: but
simulations and models of all the regions of the rate of progress doubles every decade,
the brain and [we will] understand how they and the power of the information tools (in
work. We won't blindly or mindlessly copy price-performance, resolution, bandwidth,
those methods, we will understand them and and so on) doubles every year. People, even
use them to improve our AI toolkit. So we'll scientists, don't grasp exponential growth.
learn how the brain works and then apply the During the first decade of the human genome
sophisticated tools that we will obtain, as we project, we only solved 2 percent of the
discover how the brain works. problem, but we solved the remaining 98
687 “Once we understand a subtle science princi- percent in five years.”
ple, we can isolate, amplify, and expand it. Air But Kurzweil doesn't think that the future will 689

goes faster over a curved surface: from that arrive in a rush. As William Gibson observed,
insight we isolated, amplified, and expanded “The future is here, it's just not evenly dis-
the idea and invented air travel. We'll do the tributed.”
same with intelligence.
“Sure, it'd be interesting to take a human 690

688 “Progress is exponential -- not just a measure brain, scan it, reinstantiate the brain, and run

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it on another substrate. That will ultimately By 2049, nonbiological thinking capacity will
happen.” be on the order of a billion times that. We'll
get to the point where bio thinking is relatively
691 “But the most salient scenario is that we'll insignificant.
gradually merge with our technology. We'll
use nanobots to kill pathogens, then to kill “People didn't throw their typewriters away 694
cancer cells, and then they'll go into our brain when word-processing started. There's
and do benign things there like augment our always an overlap -- it'll take time before we
memory, and very gradually they'll get more realize how much more powerful nonbiologi-
and more sophisticated. There's no single cal thinking will ultimately be.”
great leap, but there is ultimately a great leap
comprised of many small steps. It's well and good to talk about all the stuff 695

692 “In The Singularity Is Near, I describe the radi- we can do with technology, but it's a lot
cally different world of 2040, and how we'll get more important to talk about the stuff we'll be
there one benign change at a time. The Sin- allowed to do with technology. Think of the
gularity will be gradual, smooth. global freak-out caused by the relatively trivial
advent of peer-to-peer file-sharing tools:
693 “Really, this is about augmenting our biolog- Universities are wiretapping their campuses
ical thinking with nonbiological thinking. We and disciplining computer science students
have a capacity of 1026 to 1029 calculations for writing legitimate, general purpose soft-
per second (cps) in the approximately 1010 bi- ware; grandmothers and twelve-year-olds
ological human brains on Earth and that num- are losing their life savings; privacy and due
ber won't change much in fifty years, but non- process have sailed out the window without
biological thinking will just crash through that. so much as a by-your-leave.

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696 Even P2P's worst enemies admit that this have an ecological terrain that has emerged
is a general-purpose technology with good just as it did in the bioworld.
and bad uses, but when new tech comes
along it often engenders a response that “That's partly because technology is un- 701

countenances punishing an infinite number of regulated and people have access to the
innocent people to get at the guilty. tools to create malware and the medicine to
treat it. Today's software viruses are clever
697 What's going to happen when the new tech- and stealthy and not simpleminded. Very
nology paradigm isn't song-swapping, but clever.
transcendent super-intelligence? Will the
“But here's the thing: you don't see people ad- 702
reactionary forces be justified in razing the
vocating shutting down the Internet because
whole ecosystem to eliminate a few parasites
malware is so destructive. I mean, malware
who are doing negative things with the new
is potentially more than a nuisance -- emer-
gency systems, air traffic control, and nuclear
698 “Complex ecosystems will always have par- reactors all run on vulnerable software. It's an
asites. Malware [malicious software] is the important issue, but the potential damage is
most important battlefield today. still a tiny fraction of the benefit we get from
the Internet.
699 “Everything will become software -- objects
will be malleable, we'll spend lots of time in “I hope it'll remain that way -- that the In- 703

VR, and computhought will be orders of mag- ternet won't become a regulated space like
nitude more important than biothought. medicine. Malware's not the most important
issue facing human society today. Designer
700 “Software is already complex enough that we bioviruses are. People are concerted about

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WMDs, but the most daunting WMD would gram to accelerate the development of anti-
be a designed biological virus. The means biological virus technology. The way to com-
exist in college labs to create destructive bat this is to develop broad tools to destroy
viruses that erupt and spread silently with viruses. We have tools like RNA interference,
long incubation periods. just discovered in the past two years to block
gene expression. We could develop means
704 “Importantly, a would-be bio-terrorist doesn't
to sequence the genes of a new virus (SARS
have to put malware through the FDA's regu-
only took thirty-one days) and respond to it in
latory approval process, but scientists working
a matter of days.
to fix bio-malware do.
“Think about it. There's no FDA for software, 708
705 “In Huxley's Brave New World, the rationale
no certification for programmers. The govern-
for the totalitarian system was that technol-
ment is thinking about it, though! The reason
ogy was too dangerous and needed to be con-
the FCC is contemplating Trusted Computing
trolled. But that just pushes technology under-
mandates,” -- a system to restrict what a com-
ground where it becomes less stable. Regu-
puter can do by means of hardware locks em-
lation gives the edge of power to the irrespon-
bedded on the motherboard -- “is that com-
sible who won't listen to the regulators any-
puting technology is broadening to cover ev-
erything. So now you have communications
706 “The way to put more stones on the defense bureaucrats, biology bureaucrats, all wanting
side of the scale is to put more resources into to regulate computers.
defensive technologies, not create a totalitar-
“Biology would be a lot more stable if we 709
ian regime of Draconian control.
moved away from regulation -- which is
707 “I advocate a one hundred billion dollar pro- extremely irrational and onerous and doesn't

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appropriately balance risks. Many medica- them. It is a system of belief that concerns it-
tions are not available today even though self with the meddling of non-believers, who
they should be. The FDA always wants to work to undermine its goals through irrational
know what happens if we approve this and systems predicated on their disbelief. It is a
will it turn into a thalidomide situation that system of belief that asks and answers the
embarrasses us on CNN? question of what it means to be human.
710 “Nobody asks about the harm that will cer- It's no wonder that the Singularity has come 713

tainly accrue from delaying a treatment for to occupy so much of the science fiction narra-
one or more years. There's no political weight tive in these years. Science or spirituality, you
at all, people have been dying from diseases could hardly ask for a subject better tailored to
like heart disease and cancer for as long as technological speculation and drama.
we've been alive. Attributable risks get 100- $$$$
1000 times more weight than unattributable
711 Is this spirituality or science? Perhaps it is the
melding of both -- more shades of Heinlein,
this time the weird religions founded by people
who took Stranger in a Strange Land way too
712 After all, this is a system of belief that dictates
a means by which we can care for our bodies
virtuously and live long enough to transcend

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714 21. Wikipedia: a genuine Hitchhikers' is trimmed to fit:

Guide to the Galaxy -- minus the 718
editors "What? Harmless? Is that all it's got to say? Harmless!
(Originally published in The Anthology at the word!"
End of the Universe, April 2005) Ford shrugged. "Well, there are a hundred billion stars
in the
715 “Mostly Harmless” -- a phrase so funny that Galaxy, and only a limited amount of space in the
Adams actually titled a book after it. Not that book's
there's a lot of comedy inherent in those two microprocessors," he said, "and no one knew much
about the Earth
words: rather, they're the punchline to a joke
of course."
that anyone who's ever written for publication
"Well for God's sake I hope you managed to rectify that
can really get behind.
a bit."
716 Ford Prefect, a researcher for the Hitchhiker's "Oh yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to
the editor.
Guide to the Galaxy, has been stationed on
He had to trim it a bit, but it's still an improve-
Earth for years, painstakingly compiling an au- ment."
thoritative, insightful entry on Terran geogra- "And what does it say now?" asked Arthur.
phy, science and culture, excerpts from which "Mostly harmless," admitted Ford with a slightly embar-
appear throughout the H2G2 books. His entry rassed
improved upon the old one, which noted that cough.
Earth was, simply, “Harmless.”
[fn: My lifestyle is as gypsy and fancy-free as 719

717 However, the Guide has limited space, and the characters in H2G2, and as a result my
when Ford submits his entry to his editors, it copies of the Adams books are thousands

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of miles away in storages in other countries, 5,000-word article for an editor who ended up
and this essay was penned on public transit running it in three paragraphs as accompani-
and cheap hotel rooms in Chile, Boston, ment for what he decided should be a photo
London, Geneva, Brussels, Bergen, Geneva essay with minimal verbiage.)
(again), Toronto, Edinburgh, and Helsinki.
Since the dawn of the Internet, H2G2 geeks 721
Luckily, I was able to download a dodgy,
have taken it upon themselves to attempt to
re-keyed version of the Adams books from
make a Guide on the Internet. Volunteers
a peer-to-peer network, which network I
wrote and submitted essays on various
accessed via an open wireless network on a
subjects as would be likely to appear in a
random street-corner in an anonymous city, a
good encyclopedia, infusing them with equal
fact that I note here as testimony to the power
measures of humor and thoughtfulness, and
of the Internet to do what the Guide does for
they were edited together by the collective
Ford and Arthur: put all the information I need
effort of the contributors. These projects --
at my fingertips, wherever I am. However,
Everything2, H2G2 (which was overseen
these texts are a little on the dodgy side, as
by Adams himself), and others -- are like a
noted, so you might want to confirm these
barn-raising in which a team of dedicated
quotes before, say, uttering them before an
volunteers organize the labors of casual
Adams truefan.]
contributors, piecing together a free and open
user-generated encyclopedia.
720 And there's the humor: every writer knows the
pain of laboring over a piece for days, infus- These encyclopedias have one up on 722

ing it with diverse interesting factoids and in- Adams's Guide: they have no shortage of
sights, only to have it cut to ribbons by some space on their “microprocessors” (the first
distant editor (I once wrote thirty drafts of a volume of the Guide was clearly written before

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Adams became conversant with PCs!). The under the rebuilt Library of Alexandria and
ability of humans to generate verbiage is far the other in Amsterdam. [fn: Brewster Kahle
outstripped by the ability of technologists to says that he was nervous about keeping
generate low-cost, reliable storage to contain his only copy of the “repository of all human
it. For example, Brewster Kahle's Internet knowledge” on the San Andreas fault, but
Archive project (archive.org) has been mak- keeping your backups in a censorship-happy
ing a copy of the Web -- the whole Web, give Amnesty International watchlist state and/or
or take -- every couple of days since 1996. in a floodplain below sea level is probably not
Using the Archive's Wayback Machine, you such a good idea either!]
can now go and see what any page looked
So these systems did not see articles trimmed 724
like on a given day.
for lack of space; for on the Internet, the idea
of “running out of space” is meaningless. But
723 The Archive doesn't even bother throwing
they were trimmed, by editorial cliques, and
away copies of pages that haven't changed
rewritten for clarity and style. Some entries
since the last time they were scraped: with
were rejected as being too thin, while others
storage as cheap as it is -- and it is very
were sent back to the author for extensive
cheap for the Archive, which runs the largest
database in the history of the universe off
of a collection of white-box commodity PCs This traditional separation of editor and writer 725

stacked up on packing skids in the basement mirrors the creative process itself, in which
of a disused armory in San Francisco's authors are exhorted to concentrate on either
Presidio -- there's no reason not to just keep composing or revising, but not both at the
them around. In fact, the Archive has just same time, for the application of the critical
spawned two “mirror” Archives, one located mind to the creative process strangles it. So

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you write, and then you edit. Even when you fairness of each moderator's moderation.
write for your own consumption, it seems you Moderators who moderate fairly are given
have to answer to an editor. more opportunities to moderate; likewise
message-board posters whose messages
726 The early experimental days of the Internet are consistently highly rated.
saw much experimentation with alterna-
It is thought that this system rewards good 727
tives to traditional editor/author divisions.
“citizenship” on the Slashdot boards through
Slashdot, a nerdy news-site of surpassing
checks and balances that reward good mes-
popularity [fn: Having a link to one's website
sages and fair editorial practices. And in
posted to Slashdot will almost inevitably
the main, the Slashdot moderation system
overwhelm your server with traffic, knocking
works [fn: as do variants on it, like the system
all but the best-provisioned hosts offline
in place at Kur5hin.org (pronounced “corro-
within minutes; this is commonly referred
sion”)]. If you dial your filter up to show you
to as “the Slashdot Effect.”], has a baroque
highly scored messages, you will generally
system for “community moderation” of the
get well-reasoned, or funny, or genuinely
responses to the articles that are posted to its
useful posts in your browser.
front pages. Readers, chosen at random, are
given five “moderator points” that they can This community moderation scheme and 728

use to raise or lower the score of posts on ones like it have been heralded as a good
the Slashdot message boards. Subsequent alternative to traditional editorship. The
readers can filter their views of these boards importance of the Internet to “edit itself”
to show only highly ranked posts. Other is best understood in relation to the old
readers are randomly presented with posts shibboleth, “On the Internet, everyone is
and their rankings and are asked to rate the a slushreader.” [fn: “Slush” is the term for

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generally execrable unsolicited manuscripts ity of the human race to generate new pages
that fetch up in publishers' offices -- these far outstrips Yahoo!'s ability to read, review,
are typically so bad that the most junior rank and categorize them.
people on staff are drafted into reading (and,
Hence Slashdot, a system of distributed 730
usually, rejecting) them]. When the Internet's
slushreading. Rather than professionalizing
radical transformative properties were first
the editorship role, Slashdot invites contrib-
bandied about in publishing circles, many
utors to identify good stuff when they see
reassured themselves that even if printing's
it, turning editorship into a reward for good
importance was de-emphasized, that good
editors would always been needed, and dou-
bly so online, where any mouth-breather with But as well as Slashdot works, it has this 731

a modem could publish his words. Someone signal failing: nearly every conversation
would need to separate the wheat from the that takes place on Slashdot is shot through
chaff and help keep us from drowning in with discussion, griping and gaming on the
information. moderation system itself. The core task of
Slashdot has become editorship, not the
729 One of the best-capitalized businesses in the putative subjects of Slashdot posts. The
history of the world, Yahoo!, went public on fact that the central task of Slashdot is to
the strength of this notion, proposing to use rate other Slashdotters creates a tenor of
an army of researchers to catalog every sin- meanness in the discussion. Imagine if the
gle page on the Web even as it was created, subtext of every discussion you had in the
serving as a comprehensive guide to all hu- real world was a kind of running, pedantic
man knowledge. Less than a decade later, nitpickery in which every point was explicitly
Yahoo! is all but out of that business: the abil- weighed and judged and commented upon.

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You'd be an unpleasant, unlikable jerk, the affords more authority to those pages that
kind of person that is sometimes referred to have been linked to by the most other pages.
as a “slashdork.” The rationale is that if a page has been linked
to by many web-authors, then they must have
732 As radical as Yahoo!'s conceit was, Slashdot's seen some merit in that page. This system
was more radical. But as radical as Slash- works remarkably well -- so well that it's
dot's is, it is still inherently conservative in that nearly inconceivable that any search-engine
it presumes that editorship is necessary, and would order its rankings by any other means.
that it further requires human judgment and in- What's more, it doesn't pervert the tenor of
tervention. the discussions and pages that it catalogs
733 Google's a lot more radical. Instead of editors, by turning each one into a performance for
it has an algorithm. Not the kind of algorithm a group of ranking peers. [fn: Or at least, it
that dominated the early search engines like didn't. Today, dedicated web-writers, such
Altavista, in which laughably bad artificial in- as bloggers, are keenly aware of the way
telligence engines attempted to automatically that Google will interpret their choices about
understand the content, context and value of linking and page-structure. One popular sport
every page on the Web so that a search for is “googlebombing,” in which web-writers
“Dog” would turn up the page more relevant collude to link to a given page using a humor-
to the query. ous keyword so that the page becomes the
top result for that word -- which is why, for a
734 Google's algorithm is predicated on the idea time, the top result for “more evil than Satan”
that people are good at understanding things was Microsoft.com. Likewise, the practice
and computers are good at counting things. of “blogspamming,” in which unscrupulous
Google counts up all the links on the Web and

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spammers post links to their webpages in the unconsciously.

message boards on various blogs, so that
Google will be tricked into thinking that a wide Here's how a Wiki works. You put up a 738

variety of sites have conferred some authority page:

onto their penis-enlargement page.] 739

735 But even Google is conservative in assuming Welcome to my Wiki. It is rad.

that there is a need for editorship as distinct There are OtherWikis that inspired me.
from composition. Is there a way we can
Click “publish” and bam, the page is live. The 740
dispense with editorship altogether and just
word “OtherWikis” will be underlined, having
use composition to refine our ideas? Can
automatically been turned into a link to a blank
we merge composition and editorship into a
page titled “OtherWikis” (Wiki software recog-
single role, fusing our creative and critical
nizes words with capital letters in the middle
of them as links to other pages. Wiki people
736 You betcha. call this “camel-case,” because the capital let-
ters in the middle of words make them look like
737 “Wikis” [fn: Hawai'ian for “fast”] are web- humped camels.) At the bottom of it appears
sites that can be edited by anyone. They this legend: “Edit this page.”
were invented by Ward Cunningham in
1995, and they have become one of the Click on “Edit this page” and the text appears 741

dominant tools for Internet collaboration in in an editable field. Revise the text to your
the present day. Indeed, there is a sort of heart's content and click “Publish” and your re-
Internet geek who throws up a Wiki in the visions are live. Anyone who visits a Wiki can
same way that ants make anthills: reflexively, edit any of its pages, adding to it, improving on

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it, adding camel-cased links to new subjects, a previous one. That means that vandalism
or even defacing or deleting it. only lasts as long as it takes for a gardener to
come by and, with one or two clicks, set things
742 It is authorship without editorship. Or au- to right.
thorship fused with editorship. Whichever,
it works, though it requires effort. The In- This is a powerful and wildly successful 745

ternet, like all human places and things, model for collaboration, and there is no better
is fraught with spoilers and vandals who example of this than the Wikipedia, a free,
deface whatever they can. Wiki pages are Wiki-based encyclopedia with more than one
routinely replaced with obscenities, with links million entries, which has been translated
to spammers' websites, with junk and crap into 198 languages [fn: That is, one or more
and flames. Wikipedia entries have been translated into
198 languages; more than 15 languages have
743 But Wikis have self-defense mechanisms, too. 10,000 or more entries translated]
Anyone can “subscribe” to a Wiki page, and be
notified when it is updated. Those who create Wikipedia is built entirely out of Wiki pages 746

Wiki pages generally opt to act as “gardeners” created by self-appointed experts. Contribu-
for them, ensuring that they are on hand to tors research and write up subjects, or pro-
undo the work of the spoilers. duce articles on subjects that they are familiar
744 In this labor, they are aided by another useful
Wiki feature: the “history” link. Every change This is authorship, but what of editorship? For 747

to every Wiki page is logged and recorded. if there is one thing a Guide or an encyclope-
Anyone can page back through every revision, dia must have, it is authority. It must be vetted
and anyone can revert the current version to by trustworthy, neutral parties, who present

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something that is either The Truth or simply the system. Alex Halavais made changes
A Truth, but truth nevertheless. to 13 different pages, ranging from obvi-
ous to subtle. Every single change was
748 The Wikipedia has its skeptics. Al Fasoldt,
found and corrected within hours. [fn: see
a writer for the Syracuse Post-Standard,
‹http://alex.halavais.net/news/index.php?p=794› for
apologized to his readers for having rec-
more] Then legendary Princeton engineer
ommended that they consult Wikipedia. A
Ed Felten ran side-by-side comparisons of
reader of his, a librarian, wrote in and told
Wikipedia entries on areas in which he had
him that his recommendation had been
deep expertise with their counterparts in the
irresponsible, for Wikipedia articles are often
current electronic edition of the Encyclopedia
defaced or worse still, rewritten with incorrect
Britannica. His conclusion? “Wikipedia's
information. When another journalist from the
advantage is in having more, longer, and
Techdirt website wrote to Fasoldt to correct
more current entries. If it weren't for the
this impression, Fasoldt responded with
Microsoft-case entry, Wikipedia would have
an increasingly patronizing and hysterical
been the winner hands down. Britannica's
series of messages in which he described
advantage is in having lower variance in
Wikipedia as “outrageous,” “repugnant” and
the quality of its entries.” [fn: see ‹http:
“dangerous,” insulting the Techdirt writer
//www.freedom-to-tinker.com/archives/000675.html› for
and storming off in a huff. [fn: see ‹http:
more] Not a complete win for Wikipedia, but
//techdirt.com/articles/20040827/0132238_F.shtml› for
hardly “outrageous,” “repugnant” and “dan-
gerous.” (Poor Fasoldt -- his idiotic hyperbole
749 Spurred on by this exchange, many of will surely haunt him through the whole of his
Wikipedia's supporters decided to empirically career -- I mean, “repugnant?!”)
investigate the accuracy and resilience of

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750 There has been one very damning and even claimed over three million lives, has only a
frightening indictment of Wikipedia, which fraction of the verbiage devoted to the War
came from Ethan Zuckerman, the founder of the Ents, a fictional war fought between
of the GeekCorps group, which sends vol- sentient trees in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the
unteers to poor countries to help establish Rings.
Internet Service Providers and do other good
works through technology. Zuckerman issued a public call to arms to rec- 753

tify this, challenging Wikipedia contributors to

751 Zuckerman, a Harvard Berkman Center
seek out information on subjects like Africa's
Fellow, is concerned with the “systemic
military conflicts, nursing and agriculture and
bias” in a collaborative encyclopedia whose
write these subjects up in the same loving de-
contributors must be conversant with tech-
tail given over to science fiction novels and
nology and in possession of same in order
contemporary youth culture. His call has been
to improve on the work there. Zuckerman
answered well. What remains is to infiltrate
reasonably observes that Internet users skew
the Wikipedia into the academe so that term
towards wealth, residence in the world's
papers, Masters and Doctoral theses on these
richest countries, and a technological bent.
subjects find themselves in whole or in part on
This means that the Wikipedia, too, is skewed
the Wikipedia. [fn See ‹http://en.wikipedia.org/
to subjects of interest to that group -- subjects
wiki/User:Xed/CROSSBOW› for more on this]
where that group already has expertise and
But if Wikipedia is authoritative, how does it 754

752 The result is tragicomical. The entry on the get there? What alchemy turns the maunder-
Congo Civil War, the largest military conflict ings of “mouth-breathers with modems” into
the world has seen since WWII, which has valid, useful encyclopedia entries?

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755 It all comes down to the way that disputes are their hard-won peace. [fn: This process was
deliberated over and resolved. Take the entry just repeated in microcosm in the Wikipedia
on Israel. At one point, it characterized Israel entry on the author of this paper, which was
as a beleaguered state set upon by terrorists replaced by a rather disparaging and untrue
who would drive its citizens into the sea. Not entry that characterized his books as critical
long after, the entry was deleted holus-bolus and commercial failures -- there ensued sev-
and replaced with one that described Israel as eral editorial volleys, culminating in an uneasy
an illegal state practicing Apartheid on an op- peace that couches the anonymous detrac-
pressed ethnic minority. tor's skepticism in context and qualifiers that
make it clear what the facts are and what is
756 Back and forth the editors went, each overwrit- speculation]
ing the other's with his or her own doctrine.
But eventually, one of them blinked. An ed- What's most fascinating about these entries 757

itor moderated the doctrine just a little, con- isn't their “final” text as currently present on
ceding a single point to the other. And the Wikipedia. It is the history page for each,
other responded in kind. In this way, turn by blow-by-blow revision lists that make it utterly
turn, all those with a strong opinion on the mat- transparent where the bodies were buried
ter negotiated a kind of Truth, a collection of on the way to arriving at whatever Truth
statements that everyone could agree repre- has emerged. This is a neat solution to the
sented as neutral a depiction of Israel as was problem of authority -- if you want to know
likely to emerge. Whereupon, the joint authors what the fully rounded view of opinions on
of this marvelous document joined forces and any controversial subject look like, you need
fought back to back to resist the revisions of only consult its entry's history page for a
other doctrinaires who came later, preserving blistering eyeful of thorough debate on the

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subject. 22. Warhol is Turning in His Grave 761

758 And here, finally, is the answer to the “Mostly

(Originally published in The Guardian,
harmless” problem. Ford's editor can trim
November 13, 2007)
his verbiage to two words, but they need
not stay there -- Arthur, or any other user The excellent little programmer book for 762

of the Guide as we know it today [fn: that the National Portrait Gallery's current show
is, in the era where we understand enough POPARTPORTRAITS has a lot to say about
about technology to know the difference the pictures hung on the walls, about the
between a microprocessor and a hard-drive] diverse source material the artists drew from
can revert to Ford's glorious and exhaustive in producing their provocative works. They
version. cut up magazines, copied comic books,
drew in trademarked cartoon characters like
759 Think of it: a Guide without space restrictions
Minnie Mouse, reproduced covers from Time
and without editors, where any Vogon can
magazine, made ironic use of the cartoon
publish to his heart's content.
figure of Charles Atlas, painted over an iconic
760 Lovely. photo of James Dean or Elvis Presley -- and
$$$$ that's just in the first room of seven.
The programmer book describes the aes- 763

thetic experience of seeing these repositioned

icons of culture high and low, the art created
by the celebrated artists Poons, Rauschen-
berg, Warhol, et al by nicking the work of
others, without permission, and remaking it to

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make statements and evoke emotions never the copyright in the works hung on the walls
countenanced by the original creators. -- a fact that every gallery staffer I spoke to
instantly affirmed when I asked about the
764 However, the book does not say a word about
copyright. Can you blame it? A treatise on
the way that copyright and trademark were --
Indeed, it seems that every square centimeter 766
had to be -- trammeled to make these works
of the Portrait Gallery is under some form
could fill volumes. Reading the programmer
of copyright. I wasn't even allowed to pho-
book, you have to assume that the curators'
tograph the NO PHOTOGRAPHS sign. A
only message about copyright is that where
museum staffer explained that she'd been
free expression is concerned, the rights of
told that the typography and layout of the
the creators of the original source material
NO PHOTOGRAPHS legend was, itself,
appropriated by the pop school take a back
copyrighted. If this is true, then presumably,
the same rules would prevent anyone from
765 There is, however, another message about taking any pictures in any public place --
copyright in the National Portrait Gallery: unless you could somehow contrive to get a
it's implicit in the “No Photography” signs shot of Leicester Square without any writing,
prominently placed throughout the halls, logos, architectural facades, or images in it. I
including one right by the entrance of the doubt Warhol could have done it.
POPARTPORTRAITS exhibition. This isn't
intended to protect the works from the depre- What's the message of the show, then? Is it 767

dations of camera-flashes (it would read NO a celebration of remix culture, reveling in the
FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY if this were so). No, endless possibilities opened up by appropriat-
the ban on pictures is in place to safeguard ing and re-using without permission?

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768 Or is it the epitaph on the tombstone of the permission that can never be had.
sweet days before the UN's chartering of the
World Intellectual Property Organization and
the ensuing mania for turning everything that
can be sensed and recorded into someone's
769 Does this show -- paid for with public money,
with some works that are themselves owned
by public institutions -- seek to inspire us
to become 21st century pops, armed with
cameraphones, websites and mixers, or is it
supposed to inform us that our chance has
passed, and we'd best settle for a life as
information serfs, who can't even make free
use of what our eyes see, our ears hear, of
the streets we walk upon?
770 Perhaps, just perhaps, it's actually a Dadaist
show masquerading as a pop art show! Per-
haps the point is to titillate us with the deli-
cious irony of celebrating copyright infringe-
ment while simultaneously taking the view that
even the NO PHOTOGRAPHY sign is a form
of property, not to be reproduced without the

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771 23. The Future of Ignoring Things was something I needed to see, but now that
I've declined, I really don't need to read the
(Originally published on InformationWeek's 300+ messages that follow debating the best
Internet Evolution, October 3, 2007) place to eat.

772 For decades, computers have been helping I could write a mail-rule to ignore the thread, 775

us to remember, but now it's time for them to of course. But mail-rule editors are clunky,
help us to ignore. and once your rule-list grows very long, it
becomes increasingly unmanageable. Mail-
773 Take email: Endless engineer-hours are rules are where bookmarks were before the
poured into stopping spam, but virtually no bookmark site del.icio.us showed up -- built
attention is paid to our interaction with our for people who might want to ensure that
non-spam messages. Our mailer may strive messages from the boss show up in red,
to learn from our ratings what is and is not but not intended to be used as a gigantic
spam, but it expends practically no effort on storehouse of a million filters, a crude means
figuring out which of the non-spam emails for telling the computers what we don't want
are important and which ones can be safely to see.
ignored, dropped into archival folders, or
deleted unread. Rael Dornfest, the former chairman of the 776

O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference and

774 For example, I'm forever getting cc'd on busy founder of the startup IWantSandy, once
threads by well-meaning colleagues who want proposed an “ignore thread” feature for mail-
to loop me in on some discussion in which I ers: Flag a thread as uninteresting, and your
have little interest. Maybe the initial group in- mailer will start to hide messages with that
vitation to a dinner (that I'll be out of town for) subject-line or thread-ID for a week, unless

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those messages contain your name. The that you click-through the most.
problem is that threads mutate. Last week's
There was a time when I could read the 779
dinner plans become this week's discussion
whole of Usenet -- not just because I was a
of next year's group holiday. If the thread is
student looking for an excuse to avoid my
still going after a week, the messages flow
assignments, but because Usenet was once
back into your inbox -- and a single click
tractable, readable by a single determined
takes you back through all the messages you
person. Today, I can't even keep up with
a single high-traffic message-board. I can't
777 We need a million measures like this, adap- read all my email. I can't read every item
tive systems that create a gray zone between posted to every site I like. I certainly can't
“delete on sight” and “show this to me right plough through the entire edit-history of every
away.” Wikipedia entry I read. I've come to grips
with this -- with acquiring information on a
778 RSS readers are a great way to keep up
probabilistic basis, instead of the old, deter-
with the torrent of new items posted on
ministic, cover-to-cover approach I learned in
high-turnover sites like Digg, but they're
the offline world.
even better at keeping up with sites that are
sporadic, like your friend's brilliant journal It's as though there's a cognitive style built 780

that she only updates twice a year. But into TCP/IP. Just as the network only does
RSS readers don't distinguish between the best-effort delivery of packets, not worrying
rare and miraculous appearance of a new so much about the bits that fall on the floor,
item in an occasional journal and the latest TCP/IP users also do best-effort sweeps of the
click-fodder from Slashdot. They don't even Internet, focusing on learning from the good
sort your RSS feeds according to the sites stuff they find, rather than lamenting the stuff

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they don't have time to see. 24. Facebook's Faceplant 782

781 The network won't ever become more

(Originally published as “How Your Creepy
tractable. There will never be fewer things
Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook,” in Infor-
vying for our online attention. The only
mationWeek, November 26, 2007)
answer is better ways and new technology
to ignore stuff -- a field that's just being born, Facebook's “platform” strategy has sparked 783

with plenty of room to grow. much online debate and controversy. No one
wants to see a return to the miserable days
of walled gardens, when you couldn't send a
message to an AOL subscriber unless you,
too, were a subscriber, and when the only
services that made it were the ones that AOL
management approved. Those of us on the
“real” Internet regarded AOL with a species
of superstitious dread, a hive of clueless
noobs waiting to swamp our beloved Usenet
with dumb flamewars (we fiercely guarded
our erudite flamewars as being of a palpably
superior grade), the wellspring of an
Facebook is no paragon of virtue. It bears 784

the hallmarks of the kind of pump-and-dump

service that sees us as sticky, monetizable
eyeballs in need of pimping. The clue is in the

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steady stream of emails you get from Face- vertising campaign. Now, Facebook will al-
book: “So-and-so has sent you a message.” low its advertisers use the profile pictures of
Yeah, what is it? Facebook isn't telling -- you Facebook users to advertise their products,
have to visit Facebook to find out, generate a without permission or compensation. Even if
banner impression, and read and write your you're the kind of person who likes the sound
messages using the halt-and-lame Facebook of a “benevolent dictatorship,” this clearly isn't
interface, which lags even end-of-lifed email one.
clients like Eudora for composing, reading,
Many of my colleagues wonder if Facebook 786
filtering, archiving and searching. Emails from
can be redeemed by opening up the platform,
Facebook aren't helpful messages, they're
letting anyone write any app for the service,
eyeball bait, intended to send you off to the
easily exporting and importing their data, and
Facebook site, only to discover that Fred
so on (this is the kind of thing Google is do-
wrote “Hi again!” on your “wall.” Like other
ing with its OpenSocial Alliance). Perhaps if
“social” apps (cough eVite cough), Facebook
Facebook takes on some of the characteris-
has all the social graces of a nose-picking,
tics that made the Web work -- openness, de-
hyperactive six-year-old, standing at the
centralization, standardization -- it will become
threshold of your attention and chanting, “I
like the Web itself, but with the added pixie
know something, I know something, I know
dust of “social,” the indefinable characteristic
something, won't tell you what it is!”
that makes Facebook into pure crack for a sig-
nificant proportion of Internet users.
785 If there was any doubt about Facebook's lack
of qualification to displace the Internet with a The debate about redeeming Facebook starts 787

benevolent dictatorship/walled garden, it was from the assumption that Facebook is snow-
removed when Facebook unveiled its new ad- balling toward critical mass, the point at which

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it begins to define “the Internet” for a large chain leading to Facebook, MySpace, et al,
slice of the world's netizens, growing steadily I'm inclined to think that these systems are
every day. But I think that this is far from a subject to a Brook's-law parallel: “Adding
sure thing. Sure, networks generally follow more users to a social network increases the
Metcalfe's Law: “the value of a telecommuni- probability that it will put you in an awkward
cations network is proportional to the square social circumstance.” Perhaps we can call
of the number of users of the system.” This this “boyd's Law” [NOTE TO EDITOR: “boyd”
law is best understood through the analogy is always lower-case] for danah [TO EDITOR:
of the fax machine: a world with one fax ma- “danah” too!] boyd, the social scientist who
chine has no use for faxes, but every time you has studied many of these networks from the
add a fax, you square the number of possi- inside as a keen-eyed net-anthropologist and
ble send/receive combinations (Alice can fax who has described the many ways in which
Bob or Carol or Don; Bob can fax Alice, Carol social software does violence to sociability in
and Don; Carol can fax Alice, Bob and Don, a series of sharp papers.
Here's one of boyd's examples, a true story: a 790
788 But Metcalfe's law presumes that creating
young woman, an elementary school teacher,
more communications pathways increases
joins Friendster after some of her Burning
the value of the system, and that's not always
Man buddies send her an invite. All is well
true (see Brook's Law: “Adding manpower to
until her students sign up and notice that
a late softer project makes it later”).
all the friends in her profile are sunburnt,
789 Having watched the rise and fall of SixDe- drug-addled techno-pagans whose own pro-
grees, Friendster, and the many other files are adorned with digital photos of their
proto-hominids that make up the evolutionary painted genitals flapping over the Playa. The

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teacher inveigles her friends to clean up their acquaintances, charting them and their rela-
profiles, and all is well again until her boss, tionship to you. Maybe it's evolutionary, some
the school principal, signs up to the service quirk of the neocortex dating from our evolu-
and demands to be added to her friends list. tion into social animals who gained advantage
The fact that she doesn't like her boss doesn't by dividing up the work of survival but acquired
really matter: in the social world of Friendster the tricky job of watching all the other monkeys
and its progeny, it's perfectly valid to demand so as to be sure that everyone was pulling
to be “friended” in an explicit fashion that their weight and not, e.g., napping in the tree-
most of us left behind in the fourth grade. tops instead of watching for predators, emerg-
Now that her boss is on her friends list, our ing only to eat the fruit the rest of us have for-
teacher-friend's buddies naturally assume aged.
that she is one of the tribe and begin to send
her lascivious Friendster-grams, inviting her Keeping track of our social relationships is 792

to all sorts of dirty funtimes. a serious piece of work that runs a heavy
cognitive load. It's natural to seek out some
791 In the real world, we don't articulate our so- neural prosthesis for assistance in this chore.
cial networks. Imagine how creepy it would My fiancee once proposed a “social schedul-
be to wander into a co-worker's cubicle and ing” application that would watch your phone
discover the wall covered with tiny photos of and email and IM to figure out who your pals
everyone in the office, ranked by “friend” and were and give you a little alert if too much
“foe,” with the top eight friends elevated to a time passed without your reaching out to say
small shrine decorated with Post-It roses and hello and keep the coals of your relationship
hearts. And yet, there's an undeniable attrac- aglow. By the time you've reached your
tion to corralling all your friends and friendly forties, chances are you're out-of-touch with

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more friends than you're in-touch with, old ing arms; from MySpace to Facebook. It's
summer-camp chums, high-school mates, socially awkward to refuse to add someone
ex-spouses and their families, former co- to your friends list -- but removing someone
workers, college roomies, dot-com veterans... from your friend-list is practically a declara-
Getting all those people back into your life is tion of war. The least-awkward way to get
a full-time job and then some. back to a friends list with nothing but friends
on it is to reboot: create a new identity on
793 You'd think that Facebook would be the per-
a new system and send out some invites (of
fect tool for handling all this. It's not. For
course, chances are at least one of those in-
every long-lost chum who reaches out to me
vites will go to someone who'll groan and won-
on Facebook, there's a guy who beat me up
der why we're dumb enough to think that we're
on a weekly basis through the whole seventh
grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the
crazy person who was fun in college but is now That's why I don't worry about Facebook tak- 795

kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I'd ing over the net. As more users flock to it,
cross the street to avoid but who now wants the chances that the person who precipitates
to know, “Am I your friend?” yes or no, this in- your exodus will find you increases. Once that
stant, please. happens, poof, away you go -- and Facebook
joins SixDegrees, Friendster and their pals on
794 It's not just Facebook and it's not just me. Ev-
the scrapheap of net.history.
ery “social networking service” has had this
problem and every user I've spoken to has $$$$
been frustrated by it. I think that's why these
services are so volatile: why we're so willing to
flee from Friendster and into MySpace's lov-

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796 25. The Future of Internet Immune a statistical breakdown of the word-frequency
Systems in good emails.

(Originally published on Information- Then, point the filter at a giant load of spam (if 799

Week's Internet Evolution, November 19, you're having a hard time getting a hold of one,
2007) I have plenty to spare), and count the words
in it. Now, for each new message that arrives
797 Bunhill Cemetery is just down the road from in your inbox, have the filter count the rela-
my flat in London. It's a handsome old bone- tive word-frequencies and make a statistical
yard, a former plague pit (“Bone hill” -- as in, prediction about whether the new message is
there are so many bones under there that the spam or not (there are plenty of wrinkles in this
ground is actually kind of humped up into a formula, but this is the general idea).
hill). There are plenty of luminaries buried
there -- John “Pilgrim's Progress” Bunyan, The beauty of this approach is that you 800

William Blake, Daniel Defoe, and assorted needn't dream up “The Big Exhaustive List of
Cromwells. But my favorite tomb is that of Words and Phrases That Indicate a Message
Thomas Bayes, the 18th-century statistician Is/Is Not Spam.” The filter naively calculates a
for whom Bayesian filtering is named. statistical fingerprint for spam and not-spam,
and checks the new messages against
798 Bayesian filtering is plenty useful. Here's them.
a simple example of how you might use a
Bayesian filter. First, get a giant load of non- This approach -- and similar ones -- are evolv- 801

spam emails and feed them into a Bayesian ing into an immune system for the Internet,
program that counts how many times each and like all immune systems, a little bit goes a
word in their vocabulary appears, producing long way, and too much makes you break out

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in hives. mune disorder. Our network defenses are

automated, instantaneous, and sweeping.
802 ISPs are loading up their network centers with But our fallback and oversight systems
intrusion detection systems and tripwires that are slow, understaffed, and unresponsive.
are supposed to stop attacks before they hap- It takes a millionth of a second for the
pen. For example, there's the filter at the ho- Transportation Security Administration's
tel I once stayed at in Jacksonville, Fla. Five body-cavity-search roulette wheel to decide
minutes after I logged in, the network locked that you're a potential terrorist and stick you
me out again. After an hour on the phone with on a no-fly list, but getting un-Tuttle-Buttled
tech support, it transpired that the network had is a nightmarish, months-long procedure that
noticed that the videogame I was playing sys- makes Orwell look like an optimist.
tematically polled the other hosts on the net-
work to check if they were running servers that The tripwire that locks you out was fired-and- 805
I could join and play on. The network decided forgotten two years ago by an anonymous
that this was a malicious port-scan and that sysadmin with root access on the whole
it had better kick me off before I did anything network. The outsourced help-desk schlub
naughty. who unlocks your account can't even spell
803 It only took five minutes for the software to “tripwire.” The same goes for the algorithm
lock me out, but it took well over an hour to that cut off your credit card because you got
find someone in tech support who understood on an airplane to a different part of the world
what had happened and could reset the router and then had the audacity to spend your
so that I could get back online. money. (I've resigned myself to spending $50
on long-distance calls with Citibank every
804 And right there is an example of the autoim- time I cross a border if I want to use my debit

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card while abroad.) takedowns are automatic, but correcting mis-

taken takedowns is done by hand.
806 This problem exists in macro- and microcosm
across the whole of our technologically $$$$
mediated society. The “spamigation bots”
run by the Business Software Alliance and
the Music and Film Industry Association of
America (MAFIAA) entertainment groups
send out tens of thousands of automated
copyright takedown notices to ISPs at a cost
of pennies, with little or no human oversight.
The people who get erroneously fingered as
pirates (as a Recording Industry Association
of America (RIAA) spokesperson charmingly
puts it, “When you go fishing with a dragnet,
sometimes you catch a dolphin.”) spend days
or weeks convincing their ISPs that they had
the right to post their videos, music, and
807 We need an immune system. There are plenty
of bad guys out there, and technology gives
them force-multipliers (like the hackers who
run 250,000-PC botnets). Still, there's a ter-
rible asymmetry in a world where defensive

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808 26. All Complex Ecosystems Have It has organisms of sufficient diversity and
Parasites sheer number as to beggar the imagination:
thousands of SMTP agents, millions of mail-
(Paper delivered at the O'Reilly Emerg- servers, hundreds of millions of users. That
ing Technology Conference, San Diego, richness and diversity lets all kinds of inno-
California, 16 March 2005) vative stuff happen: if you go to nytimes.com
and “send a story to a friend,” the NYT can
809 AOL hates spam. AOL could eliminate nearly
convincingly spoof your return address on
100 percent of its subscribers' spam with
the email it sends to your friend, so that it
one easy change: it could simply shut off
appears that the email originated on your
its internet gateway. Then, as of yore, the
computer. Also: a spammer can harvest your
only email an AOL subscriber could receive
email and use it as a fake return address on
would come from another AOL subscriber. If
the spam he sends to your friend. Sysadmins
an AOL subscriber sent a spam to another
have server processes that send them mail
AOL subscriber and AOL found out about it,
to secret pager-addresses when something
they could terminate the spammer's account.
goes wrong, and GPLed mailing-list software
Spam costs AOL millions, and represents a
gets used by spammers and people running
substantial disincentive for AOL customers to
high-volume mailing lists alike.
remain with the service, and yet AOL chooses
to permit virtually anyone who can connect to
You could stop spam by simplifying email: 811
the Internet, anywhere in the world, to send
centralize functions like identity verification,
email to its customers, with any software at
limit the number of authorized mail agents
and refuse service to unauthorized agents,
810 Email is a sloppy, complicated ecosystem. even set up tollbooths where small sums

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of money are collected for every email, controlled.

ensuring that sending ten million messages
The Hollywood studios are conniving to cre- 815
was too expensive to contemplate without
ate a global network of regulatory mandates
a damned high expectation of return on
over entertainment devices. Here they call
investment. If you did all these things, you'd
it the Broadcast Flag; in Europe, Asia, Aus-
solve spam.
tralia and Latinamerica it's called DVB Copy
812 By breaking email. Protection Content Management. These sys-
tems purport to solve the problem of indiscrim-
813 Small server processes that mail a logfile to inate redistribution of broadcast programming
five sysadmins every hour just in case would via the Internet, but their answer to the prob-
be prohibitively expensive. Convincing the so- lem, such as it is, is to require that everyone
viet that your bulk-mailer was only useful to le- who wants to build a device that touches video
git mailing lists and not spammers could take has to first get permission.
months, and there's no guarantee that it would
get their stamp of approval at all. With veri- If you want to make a TV, a screen, a video- 816

fied identity, the NYTimes couldn't imperson- card, a high-speed bus, an analog-to-digital
ate you when it forwarded stories on your be- converter, a tuner card, a DVD burner -- any
half -- and Chinese dissidents couldn't send tool that you hope to be lawful for use in con-
out their samizdata via disposable gmail ac- nection with digital TV signals -- you'll have
counts. to go on bended knee to get permission to
deploy it. You'll have to convince FCC bu-
814 An email system that can be controlled reaucrats or a panel of Hollywood companies
is an email system without complexity. and their sellout IT and consumer electron-
Complex ecosystems are influenced, not ics toadies that the thing you're going to bring

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to market will not disrupt their business mod- and on.

DVDs live in a simpler, slower ecosystem, like 819
817 That's how DVD works today: if you want to a terrarium in a bottle where a million species
make a DVD player, you need to ask per- have been pared away to a manageable
mission from a shadowy organization called handful. DVDs pay no such dividend. A
the DVD-CCA. They don't give permission if thousand dollars' worth of ten-year old DVDs
you plan on adding new features -- that's why are good for just what they were good for
they're suing Kaleidascape for building a DVD ten years ago: watching. You can't put your
jukebox that can play back your movies from kid into her favorite cartoon, you can't down-
a hard-drive archive instead of the original sample the video to something that plays on
discs. your phone, and you certainly can't lawfully
818 CD has a rich ecosystem, filled with parasites make a hard-drive-based jukebox from your
-- entrepreneurial organisms that move to fill discs.
every available niche. If you spent a thousand The yearning for simple ecosystems is en- 820
bucks on CDs ten years ago, the ecosystem demic among people who want to “fix” some
for CDs would reward you handsomely. In problem of bad actors on the networks.
the intervening decade, parasites who have
found an opportunity to suck value out of the Take interoperability: you might sell me a 821

products on offer from the labels and the dupe database in the expectation that I'll only
houses by offering you the tools to convert communicate with it using your authorized
your CDs to ring-tones, karaoke, MP3s, MP3s database agents. That way you can charge
on iPods and other players, MP3s on CDs that vendors a license fee in exchange for per-
hold a thousand percent more music -- and on mission to make a client, and you can ensure

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that the clients are well-behaved and don't For Trusted Computing to accomplish this, 824

trigger any of your nasty bugs. everyone who makes a video-card, keyboard,
or logic-board must receive a key from some
822 But you can't meaningfully enforce that. EDS
certifying body that will see to it that the
and other titanic software companies earn
key is stored in a way that prevents end-
their bread and butter by producing fake
users from extracting it and using it to fake
database clients that impersonate the real
thing as they iterate through every record
and write it to a text file -- or simply provide a But if one keyboard vendor doesn't store his 825

compatibility layer through systems provided keys securely, the system will be useless for
by two different vendors. These companies fighting keyloggers. If one video-card vendor
produce software that lies -- parasite soft- lets a key leak, the system will be no good
ware that fills niches left behind by other for stopping screenlogging. If one logic-board
organisms, sometimes to those organisms' vendor lets a key slip, the whole thing goes
detriment. out the window. That's how DVD DRM got
hacked: one vendor, Xing, left its keys in a
823 So we have “Trusted Computing,” a system
place where users could get at them, and
that's supposed to let software detect other
then anyone could break the DRM on any
programs' lies and refuse to play with them
if they get caught out fibbing. It's a system
that's based on torching the rainforest with all Not only is the Trusted Computing advo- 826

its glorious anarchy of tools and systems and cates' goal -- producing a simpler software
replacing it with neat rows of tame and planted ecosystem -- wrongheaded, but the method-
trees, each one approved by The Man as safe ology is doomed. Fly-by-night keyboard
for use with his products. vendors in distant free trade zones just

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won't be 100 percent compliant, and Trusted In Hollywood, your ability to make a movie 829

Computing requires no less than perfect depends on the approval of a few power-
compliance. brokers who have signing authority over the
two-hundred-million-dollar budgets for mak-
827 The whole of DRM is a macrocosm for Trusted ing films. As far as Hollywood is concerned,
Computing. The DVB Copy Protection system this is a feature, not a bug. Two weeks ago, I
relies on a set of rules for translating every one heard the VP of Technology for Warners give
of its restriction states -- such as “copy once” a presentation in Dublin on the need to adopt
and “copy never” -- to states in other DRM DRM for digital TV, and his money-shot, his
systems that are licensed to receive its out- big convincer of a slide went like this:
put. That means that they're signing up to re-
view, approve and write special rules for every “With advances in processing power, stor- 830

single entertainment technology now invented age capacity and broadband access...
and every technology that will be invented in EVERYBODY BECOMES A BROAD-
the future. CASTER!”
Heaven forfend. 831
828 Madness: shrinking the ecosystem of every-
thing you can plug into your TV down to the Simple ecosystems are the goal of pro- 832

subset that these self-appointed arbiters of ceedings like CARP, the panel that set out
technology approve is a recipe for turning the the ruinously high royalties for webcasters.
electronics, IT and telecoms industries into The recording industry set the rates as high
something as small and unimportant as Hol- as they did so that the teeming millions of
lywood. Hollywood -- which is a tenth the size webcasters would be rendered economically
of IT, itself a tenth the size of telecoms. extinct, leaving behind a tiny handful of giant

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companies that could be negotiated with neutrality and diversity be compromised,

around a board room table, rather than dealt without receiving the promised benefit of
with by blanket legislation. spam-free inboxes.
833 The razing of the rainforest has a cost. It's Likewise, DRM has exacted a punishing toll 835

harder to send a legitimate email today than it wherever it has come into play, costing us in-
ever was -- thanks to a world of closed SMTP novation, free speech, research and the pub-
relays. The cries for a mail-server mono- lic's rights in copyright. And likewise, DRM
culture grow more shrill with every passing has not stopped infringement: today, infringe-
moment. Just last week, it was a call for ment is more widespread than ever. All those
every mail-administrator to ban the “vacation” costs borne by society in the name of protect-
program that sends out automatic responses ing artists and stopping infringement, and not
informing senders that the recipient is away a penny put into an artist's pocket, not a single
from email for a few days, because mailboxes DRM-restricted file that can't be downloaded
that run vacation can cause “spam blowback” for free and without encumbrance from a P2P
where accounts send their vacation notices network.
to the hapless individuals whose email ad-
Everywhere we look, we find people who 836
dresses the spammers have substituted on
should know better calling for a parasite-free
the email's Reply-To line.
Internet. Science fiction writers are supposed
834 And yet there is more spam than there ever to be forward looking, but they're wasting their
was. All the costs we've paid for fighting spam time demanding that Amazon and Google
have added up to no benefit: the network make it harder to piece together whole books
is still overrun and sometimes even over- from the page-previews one can get via the
whelmed by spam. We've let the network's look-inside-the-book programs. They're even

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cooking up programs to spoof deliberately The long tail -- Chris Anderson's name for 839

corrupted ebooks into the P2P networks, the 95% of media that isn't top sellers, but
presumably to assure the few readers the which, in aggregate, accounts for more
field has left that reading science fiction is a than half the money on the table for media
mug's game. vendors -- is the tail of bottom-feeders and
improbable denizens of the ocean's thermal
837 The amazing thing about the failure of
vents. We're unexpected guests at the dinner
parasite-elimination programs is that their
table and we have the nerve to demand a full
proponents have concluded that the problem
is that they haven't tried hard enough -- with
just a few more species eliminated, a few Your ideas are cool and you should go and 840

more policies imposed, paradise will spring make them real, even if they demand that the
into being. Their answer to an unsuccessful kind of ecological diversity that seems to be
strategy for fixing the Internet is to try the disappearing around us.
same strategy, only moreso -- only fill those
You may succeed -- provided that your plans 841
niches in the ecology that you can sanction.
don't call for a simple ecosystem where only
Hunt and kill more parasites, no matter what
you get to provide value and no one else gets
the cost.
to play.
838 We are proud parasites, we Emerging
Techers. We're engaged in perl whirling,
pythoneering, lightweight javarey -- we hack
our cars and we hack our PCs. We're the rich
humus carpeting the jungle floor and the tiny
frogs living in the bromeliads.

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842 27. READ CAREFULLY because the small print in the clickwrap,
shrinkwrap, browsewrap and other non-
(Originally published as “Shrinkwrap Li- negotiated agreements is both immutable
censes: An Epidemic Of Lawsuits Waiting and outrageous.
To Happen” in InformationWeek, February 3,
2007) Why read the “agreement” if you know 845

843 READ CAREFULLY. By reading this article,
you agree, on behalf of your employer, to 1) No sane person would agree to its text, 846

release me from all obligations and waivers and

arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED 2) Even if you disagree, no one will negotiate 847
agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, a better agreement with you?
shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confi-
dentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and We seem to have sunk to a kind of playground 848

acceptable use policies (“BOGUS AGREE- system of forming contracts. There are those
MENTS”) that I have entered into with your who will tell you that you can form a binding
employer, its partners, licensors, agents and agreement just by following a link, stepping
assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to into a store, buying a product, or receiving an
my ongoing rights and privileges. You further email. By standing there, shaking your head,
represent that you have the authority to re- shouting “NO NO NO I DO NOT AGREE,”
lease me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS you agree to let me come over to your house,
on behalf of your employer. clean out your fridge, wear your underwear
and make some long-distance calls.
844 READ CAREFULLY -- all in caps, and
what it means is, “IGNORE THIS.” That's If you buy a downloadable movie from Ama- 849

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zon Unbox, you agree to let them install program, can delete any program from your
spyware on your computer, delete any file hard drive that Microsoft doesn't like, even if it
they don't like on your hard-drive, and cancel breaks your computer.
your viewing privileges for any reason. Of
It's bad enough when this stuff comes to us 852
course, it goes without saying that Amazon
through deliberate malice, but it seems that
reserves the right to modify the agreement at
bogus agreements can spread almost without
any time.
human intervention. Google any obnoxious
850 The worst offenders are people who sell you term or phrase from a EULA, and you'll find
movies and music. They're a close second that the same phrase appears in a dozens -
to people who sell you software, or provide - perhaps thousands -- of EULAs around the
services over the Internet. There's a rubric to Internet. Like snippets of DNA being passed
this -- you're getting a discount in exchange from one virus to another as they infect the
for signing onto an abusive agreement, but world's corporations in a pandemic of idiocy,
just try and find the software that doesn't terms of service are semi-autonomous enti-
come with one of these “agreements” -- at ties.
any price.
Indeed, when rocker Billy Bragg read the fine 853

851 For example, Vista, Microsoft's new operating print on the MySpace user agreement, he dis-
system, comes in a rainbow of flavors vary- covered that it appeared that site owner Ru-
ing in price from $99 to $399, but all of them pert Murdoch was laying claim to copyrights
come with the same crummy terms of service, in every song uploaded to the site, in a silent,
which state that “you may not work around any sinister land-grab that turned the media baron
technical limitations in the software,” and that into the world's most prolific and indiscrimi-
Windows Defender, the bundled anti-malware nate hoarder of garage-band tunes.

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854 However, the EULA that got Bragg upset why bother with them?
wasn't a Murdoch innovation -- it dates back
to the earliest days of the service. It seems to If you wanted to really be careful about this 857

have been posted at a time when the garage stuff, you'd prohibit every employee at your
entrepreneurs who built MySpace were in no office from clicking on any link, installing
position to hire pricey counsel -- something any program, creating accounts, signing for
borne out by the fact that the old MySpace parcels -- even doing a run to Best Buy for
EULA appears nearly verbatim on many other some CD blanks, have you seen the fine-print
services around the Internet. It's not going out on their credit-card slips? After all, these
very far on a limb to speculate that MySpace's people are entering into “agreements” on
founders merely copied a EULA they found behalf of their employer -- agreements to
somewhere else, without even reading it, and allow spyware onto your network, to not
that when Murdoch's due diligence attorneys “work around any technical limitations in their
were preparing to give these lucky fellows software,” to let malicious software delete
$600,000,000, that they couldn't be bothered arbitrary files from their systems.
to read the terms of service anyway. So far, very few of us have been really bitten 858

855 In their defense, EULAese is so mind- in the ass by EULAs, but that's because EU-
numbingly boring that it's a kind of torture LAs are generally associated with companies
to read these things. You can hardly blame who have products or services they're hoping
them. you'll use, and enforcing their EULAs could
cost them business.
856 But it does raise the question -- why are we
playing host to these infectious agents? If But that was the theory with patents, too. So 859

they're not read by customers or companies, long as everyone with a huge portfolio of unex-

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amined, overlapping, generous patents was More importantly, these “agreements” make a 862

competing with similarly situated manufactur- mockery of the law and of the very idea of
ers, there was a mutually assured destruc- forming agreements. Civilization starts with
tion -- a kind of detente represented by cross- the idea of a real agreement -- for example,
licensing deals for patent portfolios. “We crap here and we sleep there, OK?” --
and if we reduce the noble agreement to a
860 But the rise of the patent troll changed all that.
schoolyard game of no-takebacks, we erode
Patent trolls don't make products. They make
the bedrock of civilization itself.
lawsuits. They buy up the ridiculous patents
of failed companies and sue the everloving $$$$
hell out of everyone they can find, building
up a war-chest from easy victories against lit-
tle guys that can be used to fund more seri-
ous campaigns against larger organizations.
Since there are no products to disrupt with a
countersuit, there's no mutually assured de-
861 If a shakedown artist can buy up some bogus
patents and use them to put the screws to
you, then it's only a matter of time until the
same grifters latch onto the innumerable
“agreements” that your company has formed
with a desperate dot-bomb looking for an exit

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863 28. World of Democracycraft ter myself that I'm a citizen of Disney World. I
know that when I go to Orlando, the Mouse is
(Originally published as “Why Online Games going to fingerprint me and search my bags,
Are Dictatorships,” InformationWeek, April 16, because the Fourth Amendment isn't a “Dis-
2007) ney value.”

864 Can you be a citizen of a virtual world? That's Disney even has its own virtual currency, 867
the question that I keep asking myself, when- symbolic tokens called Disney Dollars that
ever anyone tells me about the wonder of mul- you can spend or exchange at any Disney
tiplayer online games, especially Second Life, park. I'm reasonably confident that if Disney
the virtual world that is more creative play- refused to turn my Mickeybucks back into US
ground than game. Treasury Department-issue greenbacks that I
865 These worlds invite us to take up residence in could make life unpleasant for them in a court
them, to invest time (and sometimes money) of law.
in them. Second Life encourages you to make
stuff using their scripting engine and sell it in But is the same true of a game? The money 868

the game. You Own Your Own Mods -- it's in your real-world bank-account and in your in-
the rallying cry of the new generation of vir- game bank-account is really just a pointer in a
tual worlds, an updated version of the old BBS database. But if the bank moves the pointer
adage from the WELL: You Own Your Own around arbitrarily (depositing a billion dollars
Words. in your account, or wiping you out), they face
a regulator. If a game wants to wipe you out,
866 I spend a lot of time in Disney parks. I even well, you probably agreed to let them do that
own a share of Disney stock. But I don't flat- when you signed up.

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869 Can you amass wealth in such a world? Well, point of view, we do feel that the advertise-
sure. There are rich people in dictatorships all ment of a `GLBT friendly' guild is very likely
over the world. Stalin's favorites had great big to result in harassment for players that may
dachas and drove fancy cars. You don't need not have existed otherwise. If you will look
democratic rights to get rich. at our policy, you will notice the suggested
penalty for violating the Sexual Orientation
870 But you do need democratic freedoms to stay
Harassment Policy is to `be temporarily sus-
rich. In-world wealth is like a Stalin-era dacha,
pended from the game.' However, as there
or the diamond fortunes of Apartheid South
was clearly no malicious intent on your part,
Africa: valuable, even portable (to a limited
this penalty was reduced to a warning.”
extent), but not really yours, not in any stable,
long-term sense.
Sara Andrews, the guild's creator, made 874

871 Here are some examples of the difference be- a stink and embarrassed Blizzard (the
tween being a citizen and a customer: game's parent company) into reversing the
872 In January, 2006 a World of Warcraft moder-
ator shut down an advertisement for a “GBLT-
In 2004, a player in the MMO EVE Online de- 875
friendly” guild. This was a virtual club that
clared that the game's creators had stacked
players could join, whose mission was to be
the deck against him, called EVE, “a poorly
“friendly” to “Gay/Bi/Lesbian/Transgendered”
designed game which rewards the greedy and
players. The WoW moderator -- and Blizzard
violent, and punishes the hardworking and
management -- cited a bizarre reason for the
honest.” He was upset over a change in the
game dynamics which made it easier to play
873 “While we appreciate and understand your a pirate and harder to play a merchant.

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876 The player, “Dentara Rask,” wrote those ipating in real-world gold-for-cash exchanges
words in the preamble to a tell-all memoir (eBay recently put an end to this practice on its
detailing an elaborate Ponzi scheme that he service), or for violating some other rule. The
and an accomplice had perpetrated in EVE. rules of virtual worlds are embodied in EULAs,
The two of them had bilked EVE's merchants not Constitutions, and are always “subject to
out of a substantial fraction of the game's total change without notice.”
GDP and then resigned their accounts. The
So what does it mean to be “rich” in Second 879
objective was to punish the game's owners
Life? Sure, you can have a thriving virtual
for their gameplay decisions by crashing the
penis business in game, one that returns a
game's economy.
healthy sum of cash every month. You can
877 In both of these instances, players -- residents even protect your profits by regularly convert-
of virtual worlds -- resolved their conflicts with ing them to real money. But if you lose an
game management through customer ac- argument with Second Life's parent company,
tivism. That works in the real world, too, but your business vanishes. In other worlds, the
when it fails, we have the rule of law. We only stable in-game wealth is the wealth you
can sue. We can elect new leaders. When take out of the game. Your virtual capital
all else fails, we can withdraw all our money investments are totally contingent. Piss off
from the bank, sell our houses, and move to the wrong exec at Linden Labs, Blizzard,
a different country. Sony Online Entertainment, or Sularke and
your little in-world business could disappear
878 But in virtual worlds, these recourses are off-
for good.
limits. Virtual worlds can and do freeze play-
ers' wealth for “cheating” (amassing gold by Well, what of it? Why not just create a “demo- 880

exploiting loopholes in the system), for partic- cratic” game that has a constitution, full citi-

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zenship for players, and all the prerequisites and so on are functions of artificial scarcity.
for stable wealth? Such a game would be The difference between a character with
open source (so that other, interoperable “na- 10,000,000 gold pieces and a giant, rare, ter-
tions” could be established for you to emigrate rifying crossbow and a newbie player is which
to if you don't like the will of the majority in pointers are associated with each character's
one game-world), and run by elected repre- database entry. If the elected representatives
sentatives who would instruct the administra- direct that every player should have the
tors and programmers as to how to run the vir- shiniest armor, best space-ships, and largest
tual world. In the real world, the TSA sets the bank-balances possible (this sounds like a
rules for aviation -- in a virtual world, the equiv- pretty good election platform to me!), then
alent agency would determine the physics of what's left to do?
Oh sure, in Second Life they have an interest- 883

881 The question is, would this game be any fun? ing crafting economy based on creating and
Well, democracy itself is pretty fun -- where exchanging virtual objects. But these objects
“fun” means “engrossing and engaging.” Lots are also artificially scarce -- that is, the ability
of people like to play the democracy game, of these objects to propagate freely through-
whether by voting every four years or by mov- out the world is limited only by the software
ing to K Street and setting up a lobbying oper- that supports them. It's basically the same
ation. economics of the music industry, but applied
to every field of human endeavor in the entire
882 But video games aren't quite the same
(virtual) world.
thing. Gameplay conventions like “grinding”
(repeating a task), “leveling up” (attaining a Fun matters. Real world currencies rise and 884

higher level of accomplishment), “questing” fall based, in part, by the economic might

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of the nations that issue them. Virtual world of fun. It's my sneaking suspicion that the
currencies are more strongly tied to whether only people who'd enjoy playing World of
there's any reason to spend the virtual cur- Democracycraft would be the people running
rency on the objects that are denominated in for office there. The players would soon find
it. 10,000 EverQuest golds might trade for themselves playing IRSQuest, Second Notice
$100 on a day when that same sum will buy of Proposed Rulemaking Life, and Caves of
you a magic EQ sword that enables you to 27 Stroke B.
play alongside the most interesting people
online, running the most fun missions online. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe customership 886

But if all those players out-migrate to World of is enough of a rock to build a platform of
Warcraft, and word gets around that Warlord's sustainable industry upon. It's not like en-
Command is way more fun than anything in trepreneurs in Dubai have a lot of recourse
poor old creaky EverQuest, your EverQuest if they get on the wrong side of the Emir; or
gold turns into Weimar Deutschemarks, a like Singaporeans get to appeal the decisions
devalued currency that you can't even give of President Nathan, and there's plenty of
away. industry there.
And hell, maybe bureaucracies have hidden 887
885 This is where the plausibility of my demo- reserves of fun that have been lurking there,
cratic, co-operative, open source virtual world waiting for the chance to bust out and surprise
starts to break down. Elected governments us all.
can field armies, run schools, provide health
care (I'm a Canadian), and bring acid lakes I sure hope so. These online worlds are end- 888

back to health. But I've never done anything lessly diverting places. It'd be a shame if it
run by a government agency that was a lot turned out that cyberspace was a dictatorship

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-- benevolent or otherwise. 29. Snitchtown 889

(Originally published in Forbes.com, June
The 12-story Hotel Torni was the tallest 890

building in central Helsinki during the Soviet

occupation of Finland, making it a natural
choice to serve as KGB headquarters. Today,
it bears a plaque testifying to its checkered
past, and also noting the curious fact that the
Finns pulled 40 kilometers of wiretap cable out
of the walls after the KGB left. The wire was
solid evidence of each operative's mistrustful
surveillance of his fellow agents.
The East German Stasi also engaged in ram- 891

pant surveillance, using a network of snitches

to assemble secret files on every resident of
East Berlin. They knew who was telling sub-
versive jokes--but missed the fact that the Wall
was about to come down.
When you watch everyone, you watch no 892


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893 This seems to have escaped the operators far up his nostril he's in danger of lobotomizing
of the digital surveillance technologies that himself is bad form--worse form than picking
are taking over our cities. In the brave new your nose, even.
world of doorbell cams, wi-fi sniffers, RFID
I once asked a Japanese friend to explain 896
passes, bag searches at the subway and
why so many people on the Tokyo subway
photo lookups at office security desks, uni-
wore surgical masks. Are they extreme ger-
versal surveillance is seen as the universal
mophobes? Conscientious folks getting over
solution to all urban ills. But the truth is that
a cold? Oh, yes, he said, yes, of course, but
ubiquitous cameras only serve to violate the
that's only the rubric. The real reason to wear
social contract that makes cities work.
the mask is to spare others the discomfort of
894 The key to living in a city and peacefully co- seeing your facial expression, to make your
existing as a social animal in tight quarters is face into a disengaged, unreadable blank--to
to set a delicate balance of seeing and not spare others the discomfort of firing up their
seeing. You take care not to step on the heels mirror neurons in order to model your mood
of the woman in front of you on the way out of based on your outward expression. To make
the subway, and you might take passing note it possible to see without seeing.
of her most excellent handbag. But you don't
There is one city dweller that doesn't respect 897
make eye contact and exchange a nod. Or
this delicate social contract: the closed-circuit
even if you do, you make sure that it's as fleet-
television camera. Ubiquitous and demand-
ing as it can be.
ing, CCTVs don't have any visible owners.
895 Checking your mirrors is good practice even in They ... occur. They exist in the passive
stopped traffic, but staring and pointing at the voice, the “mistakes were made” voice: “The
schmuck next to you who's got his finger so camera recorded you.”

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898 They are like an emergent property of the bad at making life decisions. They're not de-
system, of being afraid and looking for cheap terred by surveillance.
answers. And they are everywhere: In Lon-
Yet the cameras proliferate, and replace hu- 902
don, residents are photographed more than
man eyes. The cops on my block in San Fran-
300 times a day.
cisco stayed in their cars and let the cameras
899 The irony of security cameras is that they do the watching. The Tube station didn't have
watch, but nobody cares that they're looking. any human guards after dark, just a CCTV to
Junkies don't worry about CCTVs. Crazed record the fare evaders.
rapists and other purveyors of sudden, sense-
Now London city councils are installing new 903
less violence aren't deterred. I was mugged
CCTVs with loudspeakers, operated by
twice on my old block in San Francisco by the
remote coppers who can lean in and make
crack dealers on my corner, within sight of
a speaker bark at you, “Citizen, pick up your
two CCTVs and a police station. My rental car
litter.” “Stop leering at that woman.” “Move
was robbed by a junkie in a Gastown garage
in Vancouver in sight of a CCTV.
Yeah, that'll work. 904
900 Three mad kids followed my friend out of the
Tube in London last year and murdered him Every day the glass-domed cameras prolif- 905

on his doorstep. erate, and the gate-guarded mentality of the

deep suburbs threatens to invade our cities.
901 Crazy, desperate, violent people don't make
More doorbell webcams, more mailbox cams,
rational calculus in regards to their lives. Any-
more cams in our cars.
one who becomes a junkie, crack dealer, or
cellphone-stealing stickup artist is obviously The city of the future is shaping up to be 906

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a neighborly Panopticon, leeched of the own lives as they proceed. We need to re-
cosmopolitan ability to see, and not be seen, verse decisions like the one that allowed the
where every nose pick is noted and logged New York Metropolitan Transit Authority to line
and uploaded to the Internet. You don't have subway platforms with terrorism cameras, but
anything to hide, sure, but there's a reason said riders may not take snapshots in the sta-
we close the door to the bathroom before we tion. We need to win back the right to pho-
drop our drawers. Everyone poops, but it tograph our human heritage in museums and
takes a special kind of person to want to do it galleries, and we need to beat back the snitch-
in public. cams rent-a-cops use to make our cameras
stay in our pockets.
907 The trick now is to contain the creeping
cameras of the law. When the city surveils its They're our cities and our institutions. And we 910

citizens, it legitimizes our mutual surveillance- choose the future we want to live in.
-what's the difference between the cops $$$$
watching your every move, or the mall own-
ers watching you, or you doing it to the guy
next door?
908 I'm an optimist. I think our social contracts
are stronger than our technology. They're
the strongest bonds we have. We don't aim
telescopes through each others' windows,
because only creeps do that.
909 But we need to reclaim the right to record our

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911 30. Hope you enjoyed it! The actual, 31. About the Author 915

physical object that corresponds to this

book is superbly designed, portable, and Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is an 916

makes a great gift: award-winning novelist, activist, blogger and

journalist. He is the co-editor of Boing Boing
912 ‹http://craphound.com/content/buy› (boingboing.net), one of the most popular
blogs in the world, and has contributed to
913 If you would rather make a donation, you
The New York Times Sunday Magazine,
can buy a copy of the book for a worthy
The Economist, Forbes, Popular Science,
school, library or other institution of your
Wired, Make, InformationWeek, Locus,
Salon, Radar, and many other magazines,
914 ‹http://craphound.com/content/donate› newspapers and websites.
$$$$ His novels and short story collections include 917

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves

Town, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom,
Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present
and his most recent novel, a political thriller for
young adults called Little Brother, published
by Tor Books in May, 2008. All of his nov-
els and short story collections are available
as free downloads under the terms of various
Creative Commons licenses.
Doctorow is the former European Director of 918

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the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org)

and has participated in many treaty-making,
standards-setting and regulatory and legal
battles in countries all over the world. In
2006/2007, he was the inaugural Canada/US
Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy at the An-
nenberg Center at the University of Southern
California. In 2007, he was also named one of
the World Economic Forum's “Young Global
Leaders” and one of Forbes Magazine's top
25 “Web Celebrities.”
919 Born in Toronto, Canada in 1971, he is a
four-time university dropout. He now resides
in London, England with his wife and baby
daughter, where he does his best to avoid
the ubiquitous surveillance cameras while
roaming the world, speaking on copyright,
freedom and the future.

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