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+% SiSU 4.0
+@title: CONTENT
+ :subtitle: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future
+ :author: Doctorow, Cory |email doctorow@craphound.com
+ :published: 2008-09
+ :copyright: Copyright (C) Cory Doctorow, 2008.
+ :license: This entire work (with the exception of the introduction by John Perry Barlow) is copyright 2008 by Cory Doctorow and released under the terms of a Creative Commons US Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/). Some Rights Reserved.
+ :topic_register: SiSU markup sample:book:discourse;book:discourse:copyright|content|creative commons|intellectual property;copyright;content;creative commons;intellectual property:copyright;intellectual property:copyright:creative commons;book:subject:culture|copyright|society|content|social aspects of technology;culture;society;technology:social aspects
+ :subject: Selected Essays
+ :oclc: 268676051
+ :isbn: 9781892391810
+ { CONTENT }http://craphound.com/content/
+ { @ Wikipedia }http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Doctorow
+ { @ Amazon.com }http://www.amazon.com/Content-Selected-Technology-Creativity-Copyright/dp/1892391813
+ { @ Barnes & Noble }http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Content/Cory-Doctorow/e/9781892391810/?itm=1&USRI=content+cory+doctorow
+ :num_top: 1
+ :breaks: break=1
+ :emphasis: italics
+ :home_button_text: {CONTENT}http://craphound.com/content; {Cory Doctorow}http://www.doctorow.com
+ :footer: {CONTENT}http://craphound.com/content; {Cory Doctorow}http://www.doctorow.com
+:A~ @title @author
+1~cc- A word about this downloadable file:
+I've been releasing my books online for free 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 thing.
+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 copyright to serve as forewards to my
+books: I write them for magazine,s, newspapers, and websites -- I write
+speeches on the subject for audiences of every description and in every nation.
+And finally, here, I've collected my favorites, the closest I've ever come to a
+Comprehensive Doctorow Manifesto.
+So I'm going to skip the foreword this time around: the *{whole book}* is my
+explanation for why I'm giving it away for free online.
+If you like this book and you want to thank me, here's what I'd ask you to do,
+in order of preference:
+_* Buy a copy: http://craphound.com/content/buy
+_* Donate a copy to a school or library: http://craphound.com/content/donate
+_* Send the ebook to five friends and tell them why you liked it
+_* Convert the ebook to a new file-format (see the download page for more)
+Now, on to the book!
+% $$$$
+% Copyright notice:
+% This entire work (with the exception of the introduction by John Perry
+% Barlow) is copyright 2008 by Cory Doctorow and released under the terms of a
+% Creative Commons US Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license
+% (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/). Some Rights Reserved.
+% The introduction is copyright 2008 by John Perry Barlow and released under
+% the terms of a Creative Commons US Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license
+% (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/). Some Rights Reserved.
+% $$$$
+1~ha- Publication history and acknowledgments:
+Introductio: 2008, John Perry Barlow
+Microsoft Research DRM Talk (This talk was originally given to Microsoft's
+Research Group and other interested parties from within the company at their
+Redmond offices on June 17, 2004.)
+The DRM Sausage Factory (Originally published as "A Behind-The-Scenes Look At
+How DRM Becomes Law," InformationWeek, July 11, 2007)
+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 Hollywood, 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
+InformationWeek, August 14, 2007)
+You DO Like Reading Off a Computer Screen (Originally published in Locus
+Magazine, March 2007)
+How Do You Protect Artists? (Originally published in The Guardian as "Online
+censorship hurts us all," Tuesday, Oct 2, 2007)
+It's the Information Economy, Stupid (Originally published in The Guardian as
+"Free data sharing is here to stay," September 18, 2007)
+Downloads Give Amazon Jungle Fever (Originally published in The Guardian,
+December 11, 2007)
+What's the Most Important Right Creators Have? (Originally published as "How
+Big Media's Copyright Campaigns Threaten Internet Free Expression,"
+InformationWeek, November 5, 2007)
+Giving it Away (Originally published on Forbes.com, December 2006)
+Science Fiction is the Only Literature People Care Enough About to Steal on the
+Internet (Originally published in Locus Magazine, July 2006)
+How Copyright Broke (Originally published in Locus Magazine, September, 2006)
+In Praise of Fanfic (Originally published in Locus Magazine, May 2007)
+Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven straw-men of the meta-utopia
+(Self-published, 26 August 2001)
+Amish for QWERTY (Originally published on the O'Reilly Network, 07/09/2003,
+Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books (Paper for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies
+Conference, San Diego, February 12, 2004)
+Free(konomic) E-books (Originally published in Locus Magazine, September 2007)
+The Progressive Apocalypse and Other Futurismic Delights (Originally published
+in Locus Magazine, July 2007)
+When the Singularity is More Than a Literary Device: An Interview with
+Futurist-Inventor Ray Kurzweil (Originally published in Asimov's Science
+Fiction Magazine, June 2005)
+Wikipedia: a genuine Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy -- minus the editors
+(Originally published in The Anthology at the End of the Universe, April 2005)
+Warhol is Turning in His Grave (Originally published in The Guardian, November
+13, 2007)
+The Future of Ignoring Things (Originally published on InformationWeek's
+Internet Evolution, October 3, 2007)
+Facebook's Faceplant (Originally published as "How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers
+Will Kill Facebook," in InformationWeek, November 26, 2007)
+The Future of Internet Immune Systems (Originally published on
+InformationWeek's Internet Evolution, November 19, 2007)
+All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites (Paper delivered at the O'Reilly Emerging
+Technology Conference, San Diego, California, 16 March 2005)
+READ CAREFULLY (Originally published as "Shrinkwrap Licenses: An Epidemic Of
+Lawsuits Waiting To Happen" in InformationWeek, February 3, 2007)
+World of Democracycraft (Originally published as "Why Online Games Are
+Dictatorships," InformationWeek, April 16, 2007)
+Snitchtown (Originally published in Forbes.com, June 2007)
+1~dedication- Dedication:
+For the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: John Perry Barlow,
+Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore
+For the staff -- past and present -- of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
+For the supporters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
+% 1~ Table of Contents:
+% 1 Introduction by John Perry Barlow
+% 2 Microsoft Research DRM talk
+% 3 The DRM Sausage Factory
+% 4 Happy Meal Toys versus Copyright: How America chose Hollywood and
+% Wal-Mart, and why it's doomed us, and how we might survive anyway
+% 5 Why Is Hollywood Making A Sequel To The Napster Wars?
+% 6 You DO Like Reading Off a Computer Screen
+% 7 How Do You Protect Artists?
+% 8 It's the Information Economy, Stupid
+% 9 Downloads Give Amazon Jungle Fever
+% 10 What's the Most Important Right Creators Have?
+% 11 Giving it Away
+% 12 Science Fiction is the Only Literature People Care Enough About to Steal on the Internet
+% 13 How Copyright Broke
+% 14 In Praise of Fanfic
+% 15 Metacrap: Putting the Torch to Seven Straw-Men of the Meta-Utopia
+% 16 Amish for QWERTY
+% 17 Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books
+% 18 Free(konomic) E-books
+% 19 The Progressive Apocalypse and Other Futurismic Delights
+% 20 When the Singularity is More Than a Literary Device: An Interview with Futurist-Inventor Ray Kurzweil
+% 21 Wikipedia: a genuine Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy -- minus the editors
+% 22 Warhol is Turning in His Grave
+% 23 The Future of Ignoring Things
+% 24 Facebook's Faceplant
+% 25 The Future of Internet Immune Systems
+% 26 All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites
+% 28 World of Democracycraft
+% 29 Snitchtown
+1~ Introduction by John Perry Barlow
+San Francisco - Seattle - Vancouver - San Francisco
+Tuesday, April 1, 2008
+"Content," huh? Ha! Where's the container?
+Perhaps these words appear to you on the 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 stuff.)
+But the chances are excellent that you're reading these liquid words as
+bit-states of light on a computer screen, having taken advantage of his
+willingness to let you have them in that form for free. In such an instance,
+what "contains" them? Your hard disk? His? The Internet and all the servers and
+routers in whose caches the ghosts of their passage might still remain? Your
+mind? Cory's?
+To me, it doesn't matter. Even if you're reading this from a book, I'm still
+not convinced that what you have in your hands is its container, or that, even
+if we agreed on that point, that a little ink in the shape of, say, the visual
+pattern you're trained to interpret as meaning "a little ink" in whatever font
+the publisher chooses, is not, as Magritte would remind us, the same thing as a
+little ink, even though it is.
+Meaning is the issue. If you couldn't read English, this whole book would
+obviously contain nothing as far as you were concerned. Given that Cory is
+really cool and interesting, you might be motivated to learn English so that
+you could read this book, but even then it wouldn't be a container so much as a
+The real "container" would be process of thought that began when I compressed
+my notion of what is meant by the word "ink" - which, when it comes to the
+substances that can be used to make marks on paper, is rather more variable
+than you might think - and would kind of end when you decompressed it in your
+own mind as whatever you think it is.
+I know this is getting a bit discursive, but I do have a point. Let me just
+make it so we can move on.
+I believe, as I've stated before, that information is simultaneously a
+relationship, an action, and an area of shared mind. What it isn't is a noun.
+Information is not a thing. It isn't an object. It isn't something that, when
+you sell it or have it stolen, ceases to remain in your possession. It doesn't
+have a market value that can be objectively determined. It is not, for example,
+much like a 2004 Ducati ST4S motorcycle, for which I'm presently in the market,
+and which seems - despite variabilities based on, I must admit,
+informationally- based conditions like mileage and whether it's been dropped -
+to have a value that is pretty consistent among the specimens I can find for a
+sale on the Web.
+Such economic clarity could not be established for anything "in" this book,
+which you either obtained for free or for whatever price the publisher
+eventually puts on it. If it's a book you're reading from, then presumably Cory
+will get paid some percentage of whatever you, or the person who gave it to
+you, paid for it.
+But I won't. I'm not getting paid to write this forward, neither in royalties
+nor upfront. I am, however, getting some intangible value, as one generally
+does whenever he does a favor for a friend. For me, the value being retrieved
+from going to the trouble of writing these words is not so different from the
+value you retrieve from reading them. We are both mining a deeply intangible
+"good," which lies in interacting with The Mind of Cory Doctorow. I mention
+this because it demonstrates the immeasurable role of relationship as the
+driving force in an information economy.
+But neither am I creating content at the moment nor are you "consuming" it
+(since, unlike a hamburger, these words will remain after you're done with
+them, and, also unlike a hamburger you won't subsequently, wellŠ never
+mind.) Unlike real content, like the stuff in a shipping container, these words
+have neither grams nor liters by which one might measure their value. Unlike
+gasoline, ten bucks worth of this stuff will get some people a lot further than
+others, depending on their interest and my eloquence, neither of which can be
+It's this simple: the new meaning of the word "content," is plain wrong. In
+fact, it is intentionally wrong. It's a usage that only arose when the
+institutions that had fattened on their ability to bottle and distribute the
+genius of human expression began to realize that their containers were melting
+away, along with their reason to be in business. They started calling it
+content at exactly the time it ceased to be. Previously they had sold books and
+records and films, all nouns to be sure. They didn't know what to call the
+mysterious ghosts of thought that were attached to them.
+Thus, when not applied to something you can put in a bucket (of whatever size),
+"content" actually represents a plot to make you think that meaning is a thing.
+It isn't. The only reason they want you to think that it is because they know
+how to own things, how to give them a value based on weight or quantity, and,
+more to the point, how to make them artificially scarce in order to increase
+their value.
+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 stop it from
+As I get older, I become less and less interested in saying "I told you so."
+But in this case, I find it hard to resist. Back during the Internet equivalent
+of the Pleistocene. I wrote a piece for an ancestor of Wired magazine called
+Wired magazine that was titled, variously, "The Economy of Ideas" or "Wine
+without Bottles." In this essay, I argued that it would be deucedly difficult
+to continue to apply the Adam Smithian economic principles regarding the
+relationship between scarcity and value to any products that could be
+reproduced and distributed infinitely at zero cost.
+I proposed, moreover, that, to the extent that anything might be scarce in such
+an economy, it would be attention, and that invisibility would be a bad
+strategy for increasing attention. That, in other words, familiarity might
+convey more value to information that scarcity would.
+I did my best to tell the folks in what is now called "The Content Industry" -
+the institutions that once arose for the useful purpose of conveying creative
+expression from one mind to many - that this would be a good time to change
+their economic model. I proposed that copyright had worked largely because it
+had been difficult, as a practical matter, to make a book or a record or motion
+picture film spool.
+It was my theory that as soon as all human expression could be reduced into
+ones and zeros, people would begin to realize what this "stuff" really was and
+come up with an economic paradigm for rewarding its sources that didn't seem as
+futile as claiming to own the wind. Organizations would adapt. The law would
+change. The notion of "intellectual property," itself only about 35 years old,
+would be chucked immediately onto the magnificent ash-heap of Civilization's
+idiotic experiments.
+Of course, as we now know, I was wrong. Really wrong.
+As is my almost pathological inclination, I extended them too much credit. I
+imputed to institutions the same capacities for adaptability and recognition of
+the obvious that I assume for humans. But institutions, having the legal system
+a fundamental part of their genetic code, are not so readily ductile.
+This is particularly true in America, where some combination of certainty and
+control is the actual "deity" before whose altar we worship, and where we have
+a regular practice of spawning large and inhuman collective organisms that are
+a kind of meta-parasite. These critters - let's call them publicly-held
+corporations - may be made out of humans, but they are not human. Given human
+folly, that characteristic might be semi-ok if they were actually as
+cold-bloodedly expedient as I once fancied them - yielding only to the will of
+the markets and the raw self-interest of their shareholders. But no. They are
+also symbiotically subject to the "religious beliefs" of those humans who feed
+in their upper elevations.
+Unfortunately, the guys (and they mostly are guys) who've been running The
+Content Industry since it started to die share something like a doctrinal
+fundamentalism that has led them to such beliefs as the conviction that there's
+no difference between listening to a song and shop-lifting a toaster.
+Moreover, they dwell in such a sublime state of denial that they think they are
+stewarding the creative process as it arises in the creative humans they
+exploit savagely - knowing, as they do, that a creative human would rather be
+heard than paid - and that they, a bunch of sated old scoundrels nearing
+retirement would be able to find technological means for wrapping "containers"
+around "their" "content" that the adolescent electronic Hezbollah they've
+inspired by suing their own customers will neither be smart nor motivated
+enough to shred whatever pathetic digital bottles their lackeys design.
+And so it has been for the last 13 years. The companies that claim the ability
+to regulate humanity's Right to Know have been tireless in their endeavors to
+prevent the inevitable. The won most of the legislative battles in the U.S. and
+abroad, having purchased all the government money could buy. They even won most
+of the contests in court. They created digital rights management software
+schemes that behaved rather like computer viruses.
+Indeed, they did about everything they could short of seriously examining the
+actual economics of the situation - it has never been proven to me that illegal
+downloads are more like shoplifted goods than viral marketing - or trying to
+come up with a business model that the market might embrace.
+Had it been left to the stewardship of the usual suspects, there would scarcely
+be a word or a note online that you didn't have to pay to experience. There
+would be increasingly little free speech or any consequence, since free speech
+is not something anyone can own.
+Fortunately there were countervailing forces of all sorts, beginning with the
+wise folks who designed the Internet in the first place. Then there was
+something called the Electronic Frontier Foundation which I co-founded, along
+with Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore, back in 1990. Dedicated to the free exchange
+of useful information in cyberspace, it seemed at times that I had been right
+in suggesting then that practically every institution of the Industrial Period
+would try to crush, or at least own, the Internet. That's a lot of lawyers to
+have stacked against your cause.
+But we had Cory Doctorow.
+Had nature not provided us with a Cory Doctorow when we needed one, it would
+have been necessary for us to invent a time machine and go into the future to
+fetch another like him. That would be about the only place I can imagine
+finding such a creature. Cory, as you will learn from his various rants
+"contained" herein was perfectly suited to the task of subduing the dinosaurs
+of content.
+He's a little like the guerilla plumber Tuttle in the movie Brazil. Armed with
+a utility belt of improbable gizmos, a wildly over-clocked mind, a keyboard he
+uses like a verbal machine gun, and, best of all, a dark sense of humor, he'd
+go forth against massive industrial forces and return grinning, if a little
+beat up.
+Indeed, many of the essays collected under this dubious title are not only
+memoirs of his various campaigns but are themselves the very weapons he used in
+them. Fortunately, he has spared you some of the more sophisticated utilities
+he employed. He is not battering you with the nerdy technolingo he commands
+when stacked up against various minutiacrats, but I assure you that he can
+speak geek with people who, unlike Cory, think they're being pretty social when
+they're staring at the other person's shoes.
+This was a necessary ability. One of the problems that EFF has to contend with
+is that even though most of our yet-unborn constituency would agree heartily
+with our central mission - giving everybody everywhere the right to both
+address and hear everybody everywhere else - the decisions that will determine
+the eventual viability of that right are being made now and generally in
+gatherings invisible to the general public, using terminology, whether
+technical or legal, that would be the verbal equivalent of chloroform to anyone
+not conversant with such arcana.
+I've often repeated my belief that the first responsibility of a human being is
+to be a better ancestor. Thus, it seems fitting that the appearance 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
+I would like to think that by the time this newest prodigy, Poesy Emmeline
+Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow - you see what I mean about paternal
+enthusiasm - has reached Cory's age of truly advanced adolescence, the world
+will have recognized that there are better ways to regulate the economy of mind
+than pretending that its products are something like pig iron. But even if it
+hasn't, I am certain that the global human discourse will be less encumbered
+than it would have been had not Cory Doctorow blessed our current little chunk
+of space/time with his fierce endeavors.
+And whatever it is that might be "contained" in the following.
+1~ Microsoft Research DRM Talk
+(This talk was originally given to Microsoft's Research Group and other
+interested parties from within the company at their Redmond offices on June 17,
+2004.) ~#
+Greetings fellow pirates! Arrrrr!
+I'm here today to talk to you about copyright, technology and DRM, I work for
+the Electronic Frontier Foundation on copyright stuff (mostly), and I live in
+London. I'm not a lawyer -- I'm a kind of mouthpiece/activist type, though
+occasionally they shave me and stuff me into my Bar Mitzvah suit and send me to
+a standards body or the UN to stir up trouble. I spend about three weeks a
+month on the road doing completely weird stuff like going to Microsoft to talk
+about DRM.
+I lead a double life: I'm also a science fiction writer. That means I've got a
+dog in this fight, because I've been dreaming of making my living from writing
+since I was 12 years old. Admittedly, my IP-based biz isn't as big as yours,
+but I guarantee you that it's every bit as important to me as yours is to you.
+Here's what I'm here to convince you of:
+1. That DRM systems don't work
+2. That DRM systems are bad for society
+3. That DRM systems are bad for business
+4. That DRM systems are bad for artists
+5. That DRM is a bad business-move for MSFT
+It's a big brief, this talk. Microsoft has sunk a lot of capital into DRM
+systems, and spent a lot of time sending folks like Martha and Brian and Peter
+around to various smoke-filled rooms to make sure that Microsoft DRM finds a
+hospitable home in the future world. Companies like Microsoft steer like old
+Buicks, and this issue has a lot of forward momentum that will be hard to soak
+up without driving the engine block back into the driver's compartment. At best
+I think that Microsoft might convert some of that momentum on DRM into angular
+momentum, and in so doing, save all our asses.
+Let's dive into it.
+2~x- 1. DRM systems don't work
+This bit breaks down into two parts:
+1. A quick refresher course in crypto theory
+2. Applying that to DRM
+Cryptography -- secret writing -- is the practice of keeping secrets. It
+involves three parties: a sender, a receiver and an attacker (actually, there
+can be more attackers, senders and recipients, but let's keep this simple). We
+usually call these people Alice, Bob and Carol.
+Let's say we're in the days of the Caesar, the Gallic War. You need to send
+messages back and forth to your generals, and you'd prefer that the enemy
+doesn't get hold of them. You can rely on the idea that anyone 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 them up and swallow them if captured -- but that doesn't help you
+if Brad Pitt and his men in skirts skewer him with an arrow before he knows
+what's hit him.
+So you encipher your message with something like ROT-13, where every character
+is rotated halfway through the alphabet. They used to do this with non-worksafe
+material on Usenet, back when anyone on Usenet cared about work-safe-ness -- A
+would become N, B is O, C is P, and so forth. To decipher, you just add 13
+more, so N goes to A, O to B yadda yadda.
+Well, this is pretty lame: as soon as anyone figures out your algorithm, your
+secret is g0nez0red.
+So if you're Caesar, you spend a lot of time worrying about keeping the
+existence of your messengers and their payloads secret. Get that? You're
+Augustus and you need to send a message to Brad without Caceous (a word I'm
+reliably informed means "cheese-like, or pertaining to cheese") getting his
+hands on it. You give the message to Diatomaceous, the fleetest runner in the
+empire, and you encipher it with ROT-13 and send him out of the garrison in the
+pitchest hour of the night, making sure no one knows that you've sent it out.
+Caceous has spies everywhere, in the garrison and staked out on the road, and
+if one of them puts an arrow through Diatomaceous, they'll have their hands on
+the message, and then if they figure out the cipher, you're b0rked. So the
+existence of the message is a secret. The cipher is a secret. The ciphertext is
+a secret. That's a lot of secrets, and the more secrets you've got, the less
+secure you are, especially if any of those secrets are shared. Shared secrets
+aren't really all that secret any longer.
+Time passes, stuff happens, and then Tesla invents the radio and Marconi takes
+credit for it. This is both good news and bad news for crypto: on the one hand,
+your messages can get to anywhere with a receiver and an antenna, which is
+great for the brave fifth columnists working behind the enemy lines. On the
+other hand, anyone with an antenna can listen in on the message, which means
+that it's no longer practical to keep the existence of the message a secret.
+Any time Adolf sends a message to Berlin, he can assume Churchill overhears it.
+Which is OK, because now we have computers -- big, bulky primitive mechanical
+computers, but computers still. Computers are machines for rearranging numbers,
+and so scientists on both sides engage in a fiendish competition to invent the
+most cleverest method they can for rearranging numerically represented text so
+that the other side can't unscramble it. The existence of the message isn't a
+secret anymore, but the cipher is.
+But this is still too many secrets. If Bobby intercepts one of Adolf's Enigma
+machines, he can give Churchill all kinds of intelligence. I mean, this was
+good news for Churchill and us, but bad news for Adolf. And at the end of the
+day, it's bad news for anyone who wants to keep a secret.
+Enter keys: a cipher that uses a key is still more secure. Even if the cipher
+is disclosed, even if the ciphertext is intercepted, without the key (or a
+break), the message is secret. Post-war, this is doubly important as we begin
+to realize what I think of as Schneier's Law: "any person can invent a security
+system so clever that she or he can't think of how to break it." This means
+that the only experimental methodology for discovering if you've made mistakes
+in your cipher is to tell all the smart people you can about it and ask them to
+think of ways to break it. Without this critical step, you'll eventually end up
+living in a fool's paradise, where your attacker has broken your cipher ages
+ago and is quietly decrypting all her intercepts of your messages, snickering
+at you.
+Best of all, there's only one secret: the key. And with dual-key crypto it
+becomes a lot easier for Alice and Bob to keep their keys secret from Carol,
+even if they've never met. So long as Alice and Bob can keep their keys secret,
+they can assume that Carol won't gain access to their cleartext messages, even
+though she has access to the cipher and the ciphertext. Conveniently enough,
+the keys are the shortest and simplest of the secrets, too: hence even easier
+to keep away from Carol. Hooray for Bob and Alice.
+Now, let's apply this to DRM.
+In DRM, the attacker is *{also the recipient}*. It's not Alice and Bob and
+Carol, it's just Alice and Bob. Alice sells Bob a DVD. She sells Bob a DVD
+player. The DVD has a movie on it -- say, Pirates of the Caribbean -- and it's
+enciphered with an algorithm called CSS -- Content Scrambling System. The DVD
+player has a CSS un-scrambler.
+Now, let's take stock of what's a secret here: 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.
+But there's the rub. Alice wants Bob to buy Pirates of the Caribbean from her.
+Bob will only buy Pirates of the Caribbean if he can descramble the
+CSS-encrypted VOB -- video object -- on his DVD player. Otherwise, the disc is
+only useful to Bob as a drinks-coaster. So Alice has to provide Bob -- the
+attacker -- with the key, the cipher and the ciphertext.
+Hilarity ensues.
+DRM systems are usually broken in minutes, sometimes days. Rarely, months. It's
+not because the people who think them up are stupid. It's not because the
+people who break them are smart. It's not because there's a flaw in the
+algorithms. At the end of the day, all DRM systems share a common
+vulnerability: they provide their attackers with ciphertext, the cipher and the
+key. At this point, the secret isn't a secret anymore.
+2~x- 2. DRM systems are bad for society
+Raise your hand if you're thinking something like, "But DRM doesn't have to be
+proof against smart attackers, only average individuals! It's like a
+Put your hand down.
+This is a fallacy for two reasons: one technical, and one social. They're both
+bad for society, though.
+Here's the technical reason: I don't need to be a cracker to break your DRM. I
+only need to know how to search Google, or Kazaa, or any of the other
+general-purpose search tools for the cleartext that someone smarter than me has
+Raise your hand if you're thinking something like, "But NGSCB can solve this
+problem: we'll lock the secrets up on the logic board and goop it all up with
+Put your hand down.
+Raise your hand if you're a co-author of the Darknet paper.
+Everyone in the first group, meet the co-authors of the Darknet paper. This is
+a paper that says, among other things, that DRM will fail for this very reason.
+Put your hands down, guys.
+Here's the social reason that DRM fails: keeping an honest user honest is like
+keeping a tall user tall. DRM vendors tell us that their technology is meant to
+be proof against average users, not organized criminal gangs like the Ukrainian
+pirates who stamp out millions of high-quality counterfeits. It's not meant to
+be proof against sophisticated college kids. It's not meant to be proof against
+anyone who knows how to edit her registry, or hold down the shift key at the
+right moment, or use a search engine. At the end of the day, the user DRM is
+meant to defend against is the most unsophisticated and least capable among us.
+Here's a true story about a user I know who was stopped by DRM. She's smart,
+college educated, and knows nothing about electronics. She has three kids. She
+has a DVD in the living room and an old VHS deck in the kids' playroom. One
+day, she brought home the Toy Story DVD for the kids. That's a substantial
+investment, and given the generally jam-smeared character of everything the
+kids get their paws on, she decided to tape the DVD off to VHS and give that to
+the kids -- that way she could make a fresh VHS copy when the first one went
+south. She cabled her DVD into her VHS and pressed play on the DVD and record
+on the VCR and waited.
+Before I go farther, I want us all to stop a moment and marvel at this. Here is
+someone who is practically technophobic, but who was able to construct a mental
+model of sufficient accuracy that she figured out that she could connect her
+cables in the right order and dub her digital disc off to analog tape. I
+imagine that everyone in this room is the front-line tech support for someone
+in her or his family: wouldn't it be great if all our non-geek friends and
+relatives were this clever and imaginative?
+I also want to point out that this is the proverbial honest user. She's not
+making a copy for the next door neighbors. She's not making a copy and selling
+it on a blanket on Canal Street. She's not ripping it to her hard-drive, DivX
+encoding it and putting it in her Kazaa sharepoint. She's doing something
+*{honest}* -- moving it from one format to another. She's home taping.
+Except she fails. There's a DRM system called Macrovision embedded -- by law --
+in every VHS that messes with the vertical blanking interval in the signal and
+causes any tape made in this fashion to fail. Macrovision can be defeated for
+about $10 with a gadget readily available on eBay. But our infringer doesn't
+know that. She's "honest." Technically unsophisticated. Not stupid, mind you --
+just naive.
+The Darknet paper addresses this possibility: it even predicts what this person
+will do in the long run: she'll find out about Kazaa and the next time she
+wants to get a movie for the kids, she'll download it from the net and burn it
+for them.
+In order to delay that day for as long as possible, our lawmakers and big
+rightsholder interests have come up with a disastrous policy called
+Here's how anticircumvention works: if you put a lock -- an access control --
+around a copyrighted work, it is illegal to break that lock. It's illegal to
+make a tool that breaks that lock. It's illegal to tell someone how to make
+that tool. One court even held it illegal to tell someone where she can find
+out how to make that tool.
+Remember Schneier's Law? Anyone can come up with a security system so clever
+that he can't see its flaws. The only way to find the flaws in security is to
+disclose the system's workings and invite public feedback. But now we live in a
+world where any cipher used to fence off a copyrighted work is off-limits to
+that kind of feedback. That's something that a Princeton engineering prof named
+Ed Felten and his team discovered when he submitted a paper to an academic
+conference on the failings in the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a
+watermarking scheme proposed by the recording industry. The RIAA responded by
+threatening to sue his ass if he tried it. We fought them because Ed is the
+kind of client that impact litigators love: unimpeachable and clean-cut and the
+RIAA folded. Lucky Ed. Maybe the next guy isn't so lucky.
+Matter of fact, the next guy wasn't. Dmitry Sklyarov is a Russian programmer
+who gave a 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, went home
+to Russia, and the Russian equivalent of the State Department issued a blanket
+warning to its researchers to stay away from American conferences, since we'd
+apparently turned into the kind of country where certain equations are illegal.
+Anticircumvention is a powerful tool for people who want to exclude
+competitors. If you claim that your car engine firmware is a "copyrighted
+work," you can sue anyone who makes a tool for interfacing with it. That's not
+just bad news for mechanics -- think of the hotrodders who want to chip their
+cars to tweak the performance settings. We have companies like Lexmark claiming
+that their printer cartridges contain copyrighted works -- software that trips
+an "I am empty" flag when the toner runs out, and have sued a competitor who
+made a remanufactured cartridge that reset the flag. Even garage-door opener
+companies have gotten in on the act, claiming that their receivers' firmware
+are copyrighted works. Copyrighted cars, print carts and garage-door openers:
+what's next, copyrighted light-fixtures?
+Even in the context of legitimate -- excuse me, "traditional" -- copyrighted
+works like movies on DVDs, anticircumvention is bad news. Copyright is a
+delicate balance. It gives creators and their assignees some rights, but it
+also reserves some rights to the public. For example, an author has no right to
+prohibit anyone from transcoding his books into assistive formats for the
+blind. More importantly, though, a creator has a very limited say over what you
+can do once you lawfully acquire her works. If I buy your book, your painting,
+or your DVD, it belongs to me. It's my property. Not my "intellectual property"
+-- a whacky kind of pseudo-property that's swiss-cheesed with exceptions,
+easements and limitations -- but real, no-fooling, actual tangible *{property}*
+-- the kind of thing that courts have been managing through property law for
+But anticirumvention lets rightsholders invent new and exciting copyrights for
+themselves -- to write private laws without accountability or deliberation --
+that expropriate your interest in your physical property to their favor.
+Region-coded DVDs are an example of this: there's no copyright here or in
+anywhere I know of that says that an author should be able to control where you
+enjoy her creative works, once you've paid for them. I can buy a book and throw
+it in my bag and take it anywhere from Toronto to Timbuktu, and read it
+wherever I am: I can even buy books in America and bring them to the UK, where
+the author may have an exclusive distribution deal with a local publisher who
+sells them for double the US shelf-price. When I'm done with it, I can sell it
+on or give it away in the UK. Copyright lawyers call this "First Sale," but it
+may be simpler to think of it as "Capitalism."
+The keys to decrypt a DVD are controlled by an org called DVD-CCA, and they
+have a bunch of licensing requirements for anyone who gets a key from them.
+Among these is something called region-coding: if you buy a DVD in France,
+it'll have a flag set that says, "I am a European DVD." Bring that DVD to
+America and your DVD player will compare the flag to its list of permitted
+regions, and if they don't match, it will tell you that it's not allowed to
+play your disc.
+Remember: there is no copyright that says that an author gets to do this. When
+we wrote the copyright statutes and granted authors the right to control
+display, performance, duplication, derivative works, and so forth, we didn't
+leave out "geography" by accident. That was on-purpose.
+So when your French DVD won't play in America, that's not because it'd be
+illegal to do so: it's because the studios have invented a business-model and
+then invented a copyright law to prop it up. The DVD is your property and so is
+the DVD player, but if you break the region-coding on your disc, you're going
+to run afoul of anticircumvention.
+That's what happened to Jon Johansen, a Norwegian teenager who wanted to watch
+French DVDs on his Norwegian DVD player. He and some pals wrote some code to
+break the CSS so that he could do so. He's a wanted man here in America; in
+Norway the studios put the local fuzz up to bringing him up on charges of
+*{unlawfully trespassing upon a computer system}*. When his defense asked,
+"Which computer has Jon trespassed upon?" the answer was: "His own."
+His no-fooling, real and physical property has been expropriated by the weird,
+notional, metaphorical intellectual property on his DVD: DRM only works if your
+record player becomes the property of whomever's records you're playing.
+2~x- 3. DRM systems are bad for biz
+This is the worst of all the ideas embodied by DRM: that people who make
+record-players should be able to spec whose records you can listen to, and that
+people who make records should have a veto over the design of record-players.
+We've never had this principle: in fact, we've always had just the reverse.
+Think about all the things that can be plugged into a parallel or serial
+interface, which were never envisioned by their inventors. Our strong economy
+and rapid innovation are byproducts of the ability of anyone to make anything
+that plugs into anything else: from the Flo-bee electric razor that snaps onto
+the end of your vacuum-hose to the octopus spilling out of your car's dashboard
+lighter socket, standard interfaces that anyone can build for are what makes
+billionaires out of nerds.
+The courts affirm this again and again. It used to be illegal to plug anything
+that didn't come from AT&T into your phone-jack. They claimed that this was for
+the safety of the network, but really it was about propping up this little
+penny-ante racket that AT&T had in charging you a rental fee for your phone
+until you'd paid for it a thousand times over.
+When that ban was struck down, it created the market for third-party phone
+equipment, from talking novelty phones to answering machines to cordless
+handsets to headsets -- billions of dollars of economic activity that had been
+suppressed by the closed interface. Note that AT&T was one of the big
+beneficiaries of this: they *{also}* got into the business of making phone-kit.
+DRM is the software equivalent of these closed hardware interfaces. Robert
+Scoble is a Softie who has an excellent blog, where he wrote an essay about the
+best way to protect your investment in the digital music you buy. Should you
+buy Apple iTunes music, or Microsoft DRM music? Scoble argued that Microsoft's
+music was a sounder investment, because Microsoft would have more downstream
+licensees for its proprietary format and therefore you'd have a richer
+ecosystem of devices to choose from when you were shopping for gizmos to play
+your virtual records on.
+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! That's like telling someone to buy the Betamax instead of the
+Edison Kinetoscope because Thomas Edison is a crank about licensing his
+patents; all the while ignoring the world's relentless march to the more open
+VHS format.
+It's a bad business. DVD is a format where the guy who makes the records gets
+to design the record players. Ask yourself: how much innovation has there been
+over the past decade of DVD players? They've gotten cheaper and smaller, but
+where are the weird and amazing new markets for DVD that were opened up by the
+VCR? There's a company that's manufacturing the world's first HDD-based DVD
+jukebox, a thing that holds 100 movies, and they're charging *{$27,000}* for
+this thing. We're talking about a few thousand dollars' worth of components --
+all that other cost is the cost of anticompetition.
+2~x- 4. DRM systems are bad for artists
+But what of the artist? The hardworking filmmaker, the ink-stained scribbler,
+the heroin-cured leathery rock-star? We poor slobs of the creative class are
+everyone's favorite poster-children here: the RIAA and MPAA hold us up and say,
+"Won't someone please think of the children?" File-sharers say, "Yeah, we're
+thinking about the artists, but the labels are The Man, who cares what happens
+to you?"
+To understand what DRM does to artists, you need to understand how copyright
+and technology interact. Copyright is inherently technological, since the
+things it addresses -- copying, transmitting, and so on -- are inherently
+The piano roll was the first system for cheaply copying music. It was invented
+at a time when the dominant form of entertainment in America was getting a
+talented pianist to come into your living room and pound out some tunes while
+you sang along. The music industry consisted mostly of sheet-music publishers.
+The player piano was a digital recording and playback system. Piano-roll
+companies bought sheet music and ripped the notes printed on it into 0s and 1s
+on a long roll of computer tape, which they sold by the thousands -- the
+hundreds of thousands -- the millions. They did this without a penny's
+compensation to the publishers. They were digital music pirates. Arrrr!
+Predictably, the composers and music publishers went nutso. Sousa showed up in
+Congress to say that:
+ These talking machines are going to ruin the
+ artistic development of music in this
+ country. When I was a boy...in front of every
+ house in the summer evenings, you would find
+ young people together singing the songs of
+ the day or old songs. Today you hear these
+ infernal machines going night and day. We
+ will not have a vocal chord left. The vocal
+ chord will be eliminated by a process of
+ evolution, as was the tail of man when he
+ came from the ape.
+The publishers asked Congress to ban the piano roll and to create a law that
+said that any new system for reproducing music should be subject to a veto from
+their industry association. Lucky for us, Congress realized what side of their
+bread had butter on it and decided not to criminalize the dominant form of
+entertainment in America.
+But there was the problem of paying artists. The Constitution sets out the
+purpose of American copyright: to promote the useful arts and sciences. The
+composers had a 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
+who paid a music publisher two cents would have the right to make one piano
+roll of any song that publisher published. The publisher couldn't say no, and
+no one had to hire a lawyer at $200 an hour to argue about whether the payment
+should be two cents or a nickel.
+This compulsory license is still in place today: when Joe Cocker sings "With a
+Little Help from My Friends," he pays a fixed fee to the Beatles' publisher and
+away he goes -- even if Ringo hates the idea. If you ever wondered how Sid
+Vicious talked Anka into letting him get a crack at "My Way," well, now you
+That compulsory license created a world where a thousand times more money was
+made by a thousand times more creators who made a thousand times more music
+that reached a thousand times more people.
+This story repeats itself throughout the technological century, every ten or
+fifteen years. Radio was enabled by a voluntary blanket license -- the music
+companies got together and asked for a consent decree so that they could offer
+all their music for a flat fee. Cable TV took a compulsory: the only way cable
+operators could get their hands on broadcasts was to pirate them and shove them
+down the wire, and Congress saw fit to legalize this practice rather than screw
+around with their constituents' TVs.
+Sometimes, the courts and Congress decided to simply take away a copyright --
+that's what happened with the VCR. When Sony brought out the VCR in 1976, the
+studios had already decided what the experience of watching a movie in your
+living room would look like: they'd licensed out their programming for use on a
+machine called a Discovision, which played big LP-sized discs that were
+read-only. Proto-DRM.
+The copyright scholars of the day didn't give the VCR very good odds. Sony
+argued that their box allowed for a fair use, which is defined as a use that a
+court rules is a defense against infringement based on four factors: whether
+the use transforms the work into something new, like a collage; whether it uses
+all or some of the work; whether the work is artistic or mainly factual; and
+whether the use undercuts the creator's business-model.
+The Betamax failed on all four fronts: when you time-shifted or duplicated a
+Hollywood movie off the air, you made a non-transformative use of 100 percent
+of a creative work in a way that directly undercut the Discovision licensing
+Jack Valenti, the mouthpiece for the motion-picture industry, told Congress in
+1982 that the VCR was to the American film industry "as the Boston Strangler is
+to a woman home alone."
+But the Supreme Court ruled against Hollywood in 1984, when it determined that
+any device capable of a substantial non-infringing use was legal. In other
+words, "We don't buy this Boston Strangler business: if your business model
+can't survive the emergence of this general-purpose tool, it's time to get
+another business-model or go broke."
+Hollywood found another business model, as the broadcasters had, as the
+Vaudeville artists had, as the music publishers had, and they made more art
+that paid more artists and reached a wider audience.
+There's one thing that every new art business-model had in common: it embraced
+the medium it lived in.
+This is the overweening characteristic of every single successful new medium:
+it is true to itself. The Luther Bible didn't succeed on the axes that made a
+hand-copied monk Bible valuable: they were ugly, they weren't in Church Latin,
+they weren't read aloud by someone who could interpret it for his lay audience,
+they didn't represent years of devoted-with-a-capital-D labor by someone who
+had given his life over to God. The thing that made the Luther Bible a success
+was its scalability: it was more popular because it was more proliferate: all
+success factors for a new medium pale beside its profligacy. The most
+successful organisms on earth are those that reproduce the most: bugs and
+bacteria, nematodes and virii. Reproduction is the best of all survival
+Piano rolls didn't sound as good as the music of a skilled pianist: but they
+*{scaled better}*. Radio lacked the social elements of live performance, but
+more people could build a crystal set and get it aimed correctly than could
+pack into even the largest Vaudeville house. MP3s don't come with liner notes,
+they aren't sold to you by a hipper-than-thou record store clerk who can help
+you make your choice, bad rips and truncated files abound: I once downloaded a
+twelve-second copy of "Hey Jude" from the original Napster. Yet MP3 is
+outcompeting the CD. I don't know what to do with CDs anymore: I get them, and
+they're like the especially nice garment bag they give you at the fancy suit
+shop: it's nice and you feel like a goof for throwing it out, but Christ, how
+many of these things can you usefully own? I can put ten thousand songs on my
+laptop, but a comparable pile of discs, with liner notes and so forth -- that's
+a liability: it's a piece of my monthly storage-locker costs.
+Here are the two most important things to know about computers and the
+1. A computer is a machine for rearranging bits
+2. The Internet is a machine for moving bits from one place to another very
+cheaply and quickly
+Any new medium that takes hold on the Internet and with computers will embrace
+these two facts, not regret them. A newspaper press is a machine for spitting
+out cheap and smeary newsprint at speed: if you try to make it output fine art
+lithos, you'll get junk. If you try to make it output newspapers, you'll get
+the basis for a free society.
+And so it is with the Internet. At the heyday of Napster, record execs used to
+show up at conferences and tell everyone that Napster was doomed because no one
+wanted lossily compressed MP3s with no liner notes and truncated files and
+misspelled metadata.
+Today we hear ebook publishers tell each other and anyone who'll listen that
+the barrier to ebooks is screen resolution. It's bollocks, and so is the whole
+sermonette about how nice a book looks on your bookcase and how nice it smells
+and how easy it is to slip into the tub. These are obvious and untrue things,
+like the idea that radio will catch on once they figure out how to sell you
+hotdogs during the intermission, or that movies will really hit their stride
+when we can figure out how to bring the actors out for an encore when the
+film's run out. Or that what the Protestant Reformation really needs is Luther
+Bibles with facsimile illumination in the margin and a rent-a-priest to read
+aloud from your personal Word of God.
+New media don't succeed because they're like the old media, only better: they
+succeed because they're worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is
+good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at. Books are good at
+being paperwhite, high-resolution, low-infrastructure, cheap and disposable.
+Ebooks are good at being everywhere in the world at the same time for free in a
+form that is so malleable that you can just pastebomb it into your IM session
+or turn it into a page-a-day mailing list.
+The only really successful epublishing -- I mean, hundreds of thousands,
+millions of copies distributed and read -- is the bookwarez scene, where
+scanned-and-OCR'd books are distributed on the darknet. The only legit
+publishers with any success at epublishing are the ones whose books cross the
+Internet without technological fetter: publishers like Baen Books and my own,
+Tor, who are making some or all of their catalogs available in ASCII and HTML
+and PDF.
+The hardware-dependent ebooks, the DRM use-and-copy-restricted ebooks, they're
+cratering. Sales measured in the tens, sometimes the hundreds. Science fiction
+is a niche business, but when you're selling copies by the ten, that's not even
+a business, it's a hobby.
+Every one of you has been riding a curve where you read more and more words off
+of more and more screens every day through most of your professional careers.
+It's zero-sum: you've also been reading fewer words off of fewer pages as time
+went by: the dinosauric executive who prints his email and dictates a reply to
+his secretary is info-roadkill.
+Today, at this very second, people read words off of screens for every hour
+that they can find. Your kids stare at their Game Boys until their eyes fall
+out. Euroteens ring doorbells with their hypertrophied, SMS-twitching thumbs
+instead of their index fingers.
+Paper books are the packaging that books come in. Cheap printer-binderies like
+the Internet Bookmobile that can produce a full bleed, four color, glossy
+cover, printed spine, perfect-bound book in ten minutes for a dollar are the
+future of paper books: when you need an instance of a paper book, you generate
+one, or part of one, and pitch it out when you're done. I landed at SEA-TAC on
+Monday and burned a couple CDs from my music collection to listen to in the
+rental car. When I drop the car off, I'll leave them behind. Who needs 'em?
+Whenever a new technology has disrupted copyright, we've changed copyright.
+Copyright isn't an ethical proposition, it's a utilitarian one. There's nothing
+*{moral}* about paying a composer tuppence for the piano-roll rights, 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 balancing out so that people's
+physical property rights in their VCRs and phonographs are respected and so
+that creators get enough of a dangling carrot to go on making shows and music
+and books and paintings.
+Technology that disrupts copyright does so because it simplifies and cheapens
+creation, reproduction and distribution. The existing copyright businesses
+exploit inefficiencies in the old production, reproduction and distribution
+system, and they'll be weakened by the new technology. But new technology
+always gives us more art with a wider reach: that's what tech is *{for}*.
+Tech gives us bigger pies that more artists can get a bite out of. That's been
+tacitly acknowledged at every stage of the copyfight since the piano roll. When
+copyright and technology collide, it's copyright that changes.
+Which means that today's copyright -- the thing that DRM nominally props up --
+didn't come down off the mountain on two stone tablets. It was created in
+living memory to accommodate the technical reality created by the inventors of
+the previous generation. To abandon invention now robs tomorrow's artists of
+the new businesses and new reach and new audiences that the Internet and the PC
+can give them.
+2~x- 5. DRM is a bad business-move for MSFT
+When Sony brought out the VCR, it made a record player that could play
+Hollywood's records, even if Hollywood didn't like the idea. The industries
+that grew up on the back of the VCR -- movie rentals, home taping, camcorders,
+even Bar Mitzvah videographers -- made billions for Sony and its cohort.
+That was good business -- even if Sony lost the Betamax-VHS format wars, the
+money on the world-with-VCRs table was enough to make up for it.
+But then Sony acquired a relatively tiny entertainment company and it started
+to massively screw up. When MP3 rolled around and Sony's walkman customers were
+clamoring for a solid-state MP3 player, Sony let its music business-unit run
+its show: instead of making a high-capacity MP3 walkman, Sony shipped its Music
+Clips, low-capacity devices that played brain-damaged DRM formats like Real and
+OpenMG. They spent good money engineering "features" into these devices that
+kept their customers from freely moving their music back and forth between
+their devices. Customers stayed away in droves.
+Today, Sony is dead in the water when it comes to walkmen. The market leaders
+are poky Singaporean outfits like Creative Labs -- the kind of company that
+Sony used to crush like a bug, back before it got borged by its entertainment
+unit -- and PC companies like Apple.
+That's because Sony shipped a product that there was no market demand for. No
+Sony customer woke up one morning and said, "Damn, I wish Sony would devote
+some expensive engineering effort in order that I may do less with my music."
+Presented with an alternative, Sony's customers enthusiastically jumped ship.
+The same thing happened to a lot of people I know who used to rip their CDs to
+WMA. You guys sold them software that produced smaller, better-sounding rips
+than the MP3 rippers, but you also fixed it so that the songs you ripped were
+device-locked to their PCs. What that meant is that when they backed up their
+music to another hard-drive and reinstalled their OS (something that the
+spyware and malware wars has made more common than ever), they discovered that
+after they restored their music that they could no longer play it. The player
+saw the new OS as a different machine, and locked them out of their own music.
+There is no market demand for this "feature." None of your customers want you
+to make expensive modifications to your products that make backing up and
+restoring even harder. And there is no moment when your customers will be less
+forgiving than the moment that they are recovering from catastrophic technology
+I speak from experience. Because I buy a new Powerbook every ten months, and
+because I always order the new models the day they're announced, I get a lot of
+lemons from Apple. That means that I hit Apple's
+three-iTunes-authorized-computers limit pretty early on and found myself unable
+to play the hundreds of dollars' worth of iTunes songs I'd bought because one
+of my authorized machines was a lemon that Apple had broken up for parts, one
+was in the shop getting fixed by Apple, and one was my mom's computer, 3,000
+miles away in Toronto.
+If I had been a less good customer for Apple's hardware, I would have been
+fine. If I had been a less enthusiastic evangelist for Apple's products -- if I
+hadn't shown my mom how iTunes Music Store worked -- I would have been fine. If
+I hadn't bought so much iTunes music that burning it to CD and re-ripping it
+and re-keying all my metadata was too daunting a task to consider, I would have
+been fine.
+As it was Apple rewarded my trust, evangelism and out-of-control spending by
+treating me like a crook and locking me out of my own music, at a time when my
+Powerbook was in the shop -- i.e., at a time when I was hardly disposed to feel
+charitable to Apple.
+I'm an edge case here, but I'm a *{leading edge}* case. If Apple succeeds in
+its business plans, it will only be a matter of time until even average
+customers have upgraded enough hardware and bought enough music to end up where
+I am.
+You know what I would totally buy? A record player that let me play everybody's
+records. Right now, the closest I can come to that is an open source app called
+VLC, but it's clunky and buggy and it didn't come pre-installed on my computer.
+Sony didn't make a Betamax that only played the movies that Hollywood was
+willing to permit -- Hollywood asked them to do it, they proposed an early,
+analog broadcast flag that VCRs could hunt for and respond to by disabling
+recording. Sony ignored them and made the product they thought their customers
+I'm a Microsoft customer. Like millions of other Microsoft customers, I want a
+player that plays anything I throw at it, and I think that you are just the
+company to give it to me.
+Yes, this would violate copyright law as it stands, but Microsoft has been
+making tools of piracy that change copyright law for decades now. Outlook,
+Exchange and MSN are tools that abet widescale digital infringement.
+More significantly, IIS and your caching proxies all make and serve copies of
+documents without their authors' consent, something that, if it is legal today,
+is only legal because companies like Microsoft went ahead and did it and dared
+lawmakers to prosecute.
+Microsoft stood up for its customers and for progress, and won so decisively
+that most people never even realized that there was a fight.
+Do it again! This is a company that looks the world's roughest, toughest
+anti-trust regulators in the eye and laughs. Compared to anti-trust people,
+copyright lawmakers are pantywaists. You can take them with your arm behind
+your back.
+In Siva Vaidhyanathan's book The Anarchist in the Library, he talks about why
+the studios are so blind to their customers' desires. It's because people like
+you and me spent the 80s and the 90s telling them bad science fiction stories
+about impossible DRM technology that would let them charge a small sum of money
+every time someone looked at a movie -- want to fast-forward? That feature
+costs another penny. Pausing is two cents an hour. The mute button will cost
+you a quarter.
+When Mako Analysis issued their report last month advising phone companies to
+stop supporting Symbian phones, they were just writing the latest installment
+in this story. Mako says that phones like my P900, which can play MP3s as
+ringtones, are bad for the cellphone economy, because it'll put the
+extortionate ringtone sellers out of business. What Mako is saying is that just
+because you bought the CD doesn't mean that you should expect to have the
+ability to listen to it on your MP3 player, and just because it plays on your
+MP3 player is no reason to expect it to run as a ringtone. I wonder how they
+feel about alarm clocks that will play a CD to wake you up in the morning? Is
+that strangling the nascent "alarm tone" market?
+The phone companies' customers want Symbian phones and for now, at least, the
+phone companies understand that if they don't sell them, someone else will.
+The market opportunity for a truly capable devices is enormous. There's a
+company out there charging *{$27,000}* for a DVD jukebox -- go and eat their
+lunch! Steve Jobs isn't going to do it: he's off at the D conference telling
+studio execs not to release hi-def movies until they're sure no one will make a
+hi-def DVD burner that works with a PC.
+Maybe they won't buy into his BS, but they're also not much interested in what
+you have to 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 broadcast
+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 television."
+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
+Sony didn't get permission. Neither should you. Go build the record player that
+can play everyone's records.
+Because if you don't do it, someone else will.
+1~ The DRM Sausage Factory
+(Originally published as "A Behind-The-Scenes Look At How DRM Becomes Law,"
+InformationWeek, July 11, 2007) ~#
+Otto von Bismarck quipped, "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see
+them being made." I've seen sausages made. I've seen laws made. Both pale in
+comparison to the process by which anti-copying technology agreements are made.
+This technology, usually called "Digital Rights Management" (DRM) proposes to
+make your computer worse at copying some of the files on its hard-drive or on
+other media. Since all computer operations involve copying, this is a daunting
+task -- as security expert Bruce Schneier has said, "Making bits harder to copy
+is like making water that's less wet."
+At root, DRMs are technologies that treat the owner of a computer or other
+device as an attacker, someone against whom the system must be armored. Like
+the electrical meter on the side of your house, a DRM is a technology that you
+possess, but that you are never supposed to be able to manipulate or modify.
+Unlike the your meter, though, a DRM that is defeated in one place is defeated
+in all places, nearly simultaneously. That is to say, once someone takes the
+DRM off a song or movie or ebook, that freed collection of bits can be sent to
+anyone else, anywhere the network reaches, in an eyeblink. DRM crackers need
+cunning: those who receive the fruits of their labor need only know how to
+download files from the Internet.
+Why manufacture a device that attacks its owner? A priori, one would assume
+that such a device would cost more to make than a friendlier one, and that
+customers would prefer not to buy devices that treat them as presumptive
+criminals. DRM technologies limit more than copying: they limit ranges of uses,
+such as viewing a movie in a different country, copying a song to a different
+manufacturer's player, or even pausing a movie for too long. Surely, this stuff
+hurts sales: who goes into a store and asks, "Do you have any music that's
+locked to just one company's player? I'm in the market for some lock-in."
+So why do manufacturers do it? As with many strange behaviors, there's a carrot
+at play here, and a stick.
+The carrot is the entertainment industries' promise of access to their
+copyrighted works. Add DRM to your iPhone and we'll supply music for it. Add
+DRM to your TiVo and we'll let you plug it into our satellite receivers. Add
+DRM to your Zune and we'll let you retail our music in your Zune store.
+The stick is the entertainment industries' threat of lawsuits for companies
+that don't comply. In the last century, entertainment companies fought over the
+creation of records, radios, jukeboxes, cable TV, VCRs, MP3 players and other
+technologies that made it possible to experience a copyrighted work in a new
+way without permission. There's one battle that serves as the archetype for the
+rest: the fight over the VCR.
+The film studios were outraged by Sony's creation of the VCR. They had found a
+DRM supplier they preferred, a company called Discovision that made
+non-recordable optical discs. Discovision was the only company authorized to
+play back movies in your living room. The only way to get a copyrighted work
+onto a VCR cassette was to record it off the TV, without permission. The
+studios argued that Sony -- whose Betamax was the canary in this legal coalmine
+-- was breaking the law by unjustly endangering their revenue from Discovision
+royalties. Sure, they *{could}* just sell pre-recorded Betamax tapes, but
+Betamax was a read-write medium: they could be *{copied}*. Moreover, your
+personal library of Betamax recordings of the Sunday night movie would eat into
+the market for Discovision discs: why would anyone buy a pre-recorded video
+cassette when they could amass all the video they needed with a home recorder
+and a set of rabbit-ears?
+The Supreme Court threw out these arguments in a 1984 5-4 decision, the
+"Betamax Decision." This decision held that the VCR was legal because it was
+"capable of sustaining a substantially non-infringing use." That means that if
+you make a technology that your customers *{can}* use legally, you're not on
+the hook for the illegal stuff they do.
+This principle guided the creation of virtually every piece of IT invented
+since: the Web, search engines, YouTube, Blogger, Skype, ICQ, AOL, MySpace...
+You name it, if it's possible to violate copyright with it, the thing that made
+it possible is the Betamax principle.
+Unfortunately, the Supremes shot the Betamax principle in the gut two years
+ago, with the Grokster decision. This decision says that a company can be found
+liable for its customers' bad acts if they can be shown to have "induced"
+copyright infringement. So, if your company advertises your product for an
+infringing use, or if it can be shown that you had infringement in mind at the
+design stage, you can be found liable for your customers' copying. The studios
+and record labels and broadcasters *{love}* this ruling, and they like to think
+that it's even broader than what the courts set out. For example, Viacom is
+suing Google for inducing copyright infringement by allowing YouTube users to
+flag some of their videos as private. Private videos can't be found by Viacom's
+copyright-enforcement bots, so Viacom says that privacy should be illegal, and
+that companies that give you the option of privacy should be sued for anything
+you do behind closed doors.
+The gutshot Betamax doctrine will bleed out all over the industry for decades
+(or until the courts or Congress restore it to health), providing a grisly
+reminder of what happens to companies that try to pour the entertainment
+companies' old wine into new digital bottles without permission. The
+tape-recorder was legal, but the digital tape-recorder is an inducement to
+infringement, and must be stopped.
+The promise of access to content and the threat of legal execution for
+non-compliance is enough to lure technology's biggest players to the DRM table.
+I started attending DRM meetings in March, 2002, on behalf of my former
+employers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. My first meeting was the one
+where Broadcast Flag was born. The Broadcast Flag was weird even by DRM
+standards. Broadcasters are required, by law, to deliver TV and radio without
+DRM, so that any standards-compliant receiver can receive them. The airwaves
+belong to the public, and are loaned to broadcasters who have to promise to
+serve the public interest in exchange. But the MPAA and the broadcasters wanted
+to add DRM to digital TV, and so they proposed that a law should be passed that
+would make all manufacturers promise to *{pretend}* that there was DRM on
+broadcast signals, receiving them and immediately squirreling them away in
+encrypted form.
+The Broadcast Flag was hammered out in a group called the Broadcast Protection
+Discussion Group (BPDG) a sub-group from the MPAA's "Content Protection
+Technology Working Group," which also included reps from all the big IT
+companies (Microsoft, Apple, Intel, and so on), consumer electronics companies
+(Panasonic, Philips, Zenith), cable companies, satellite companies, and anyone
+else who wanted to pay $100 to attend the "public" meetings, held every six
+weeks or so (you can attend these meetings yourself if you find yourself near
+LAX on one of the upcoming dates).
+CPTWG (pronounced Cee-Pee-Twig) is a venerable presence in the DRM world. It
+was at CPTWG that the DRM for DVDs was hammered out. CPTWG meetings open with a
+"benediction," delivered by a lawyer, who reminds everyone there that what they
+say might be quoted "on the front page of the New York Times," (though
+journalists are barred from attending CPTWG meetings and no minutes are
+published by the organization) and reminding all present not to do anything
+that would raise eyebrows at the FTC's anti-trust division (I could swear I've
+seen the Microsoft people giggling during this part, though that may have been
+my imagination).
+The first part of the meeting is usually taken up with administrative business
+and presentations from DRM vendors, who come out to promise that this time
+they've really, really figured out how to make computers worse at copying. The
+real meat comes after the lunch, when the group splits into a series of smaller
+meetings, many of them closed-door and private (the representatives of the
+organizations responsible for managing DRM on DVDs splinter off at this point).
+Then comes the working group meetings, like the BPDG. The BPDG was nominally
+set up to set up the rules for the Broadcast Flag. Under the Flag,
+manufacturers would be required to limit their "outputs and recording methods"
+to a set of "approved technologies." Naturally, every manufacturer in the room
+showed up with a technology to add to the list of approved technologies -- and
+the sneakier ones showed up with reasons why their competitors' technologies
+*{shouldn't}* be approved. If the Broadcast Flag became law, a spot on the
+"approved technologies" list would be a license to print money: everyone who
+built a next-gen digital TV would be required, by law, to buy only approved
+technologies for their gear.
+The CPTWG determined that there would be three "chairmen" of the meetings: a
+representative from the broadcasters, a representative from the studios, and a
+representative from the IT industry (note that no "consumer rights" chair was
+contemplated -- we proposed one and got laughed off the agenda). The IT chair
+was filled by an Intel representative, who seemed pleased that the MPAA chair,
+Fox Studios's Andy Setos, began the process by proposing that the approved
+technologies should include only two technologies, both of which Intel
+partially owned.
+Intel's presence on the committee was both reassurance and threat: reassurance
+because Intel signaled the fundamental reasonableness of the MPAA's
+requirements -- why would a company with a bigger turnover than the whole movie
+industry show up if the negotiations weren't worth having? Threat because Intel
+was poised to gain an advantage that might be denied to its competitors.
+We settled in for a long negotiation. The discussions were drawn out and
+heated. At regular intervals, the MPAA reps told us that we were wasting time
+-- if we didn't hurry things along, the world would move on and consumers would
+grow accustomed to un-crippled digital TVs. Moreover, Rep Billy Tauzin, the
+lawmaker who'd evidently promised to enact the Broadcast Flag into law, was
+growing impatient. The warnings were delivered in quackspeak, urgent and
+crackling, whenever the discussions dragged, like the crack of the commissars'
+pistols, urging us forward.
+You'd think that a "technology working group" would concern itself with
+technology, but there was precious little discussion of bits and bytes, ciphers
+and keys. Instead, we focused on what amounted to contractual terms: if your
+technology got approved as a DTV "output," what obligations would you have to
+assume? If a TiVo could serve as an "output" for a receiver, what outputs would
+the TiVo be allowed to have?
+The longer we sat there, the more snarled these contractual terms became:
+winning a coveted spot on the "approved technology" list would be quite a
+burden! Once you were in the club, there were all sorts of rules about whom you
+could associate with, how you had to comport yourself and so on.
+One of these rules of conduct was "robustness." As a condition of approval,
+manufacturers would have to harden their technologies so that their customers
+wouldn't be able to modify, improve upon, or even understand their workings. As
+you might imagine, the people who made open source TV tuners were not thrilled
+about this, as "open source" and "non-user-modifiable" are polar opposites.
+Another was "renewability:" the ability of the studios to revoke outputs that
+had been compromised in the field. The studios expected the manufacturers to
+make products 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 do
+something naughty with it. They promised that we'd establish criteria for
+renewability later, and that it would all be "fair."
+But we soldiered on. The MPAA had a gift for resolving the worst snarls: when
+shouting failed, they'd lead any recalcitrant player out of the room and
+negotiate in secret with them, leaving the rest of us to cool our heels. Once,
+they took the Microsoft team out of the room for *{six hours}*, then came back
+and announced that digital video would be allowed to output on non-DRM monitors
+at a greatly reduced resolution (this "feature" appears in Vista as "fuzzing").
+The further we went, the more nervous everyone became. We were headed for the
+real meat of the negotiations: the *{criteria}* by which approved technology
+would be evaluated: how many bits of crypto would you need? Which ciphers would
+be permissible? Which features would and wouldn't be allowed?
+Then the MPAA dropped the other shoe: the sole criteria for inclusion on the
+list would be the approval of one of its member-companies, or a quorum of
+broadcasters. In other words, the Broadcast Flag wouldn't be an "objective
+standard," describing the technical means by which video would be locked away
+-- it would be purely subjective, up to the whim of the studios. You could have
+the best product in the world, and they wouldn't approve it if your
+business-development guys hadn't bought enough drinks for their
+business-development guys at a CES party.
+To add insult to injury, the only technologies that the MPAA were willing to
+consider for initial inclusion as "approved" were the two that Intel was
+involved with. The Intel co-chairman had a hard time hiding his grin. He'd
+acted as Judas goat, luring in Apple, Microsoft, and the rest, to legitimize a
+process that would force them to license Intel's patents for every TV
+technology they shipped until the end of time.
+Why did the MPAA give Intel such a sweetheart deal? At the time, I figured that
+this was just straight quid pro quo, like Hannibal said to Clarice. But over
+the years, I started to see a larger pattern: Hollywood likes DRM consortia,
+and they hate individual DRM vendors. (I've written an entire article about
+this, but here's the gist: a single vendor who succeeds can name their price
+and terms -- think of Apple or Macrovision -- while a consortium is a more
+easily divided rabble, susceptible to co-option in order to produce
+ever-worsening technologies -- think of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD). Intel's
+technologies were held through two consortia, the 5C and 4C groups.
+The single-vendor manufacturers were livid at being locked out of the digital
+TV market. The final report of the consortium reflected this -- a few sheets
+written by the chairmen describing the "consensus" and hundreds of pages of
+angry invective from manufacturers and consumer groups decrying it as a sham.
+Tauzin washed his hands of the process: a canny, sleazy Hill operator, he had
+the political instincts to get his name off any proposal that could be shown to
+be a plot to break voters' televisions (Tauzin found a better industry to shill
+for, the pharmaceutical firms, who rewarded him with a $2,000,000/year job as
+chief of PHARMA, the pharmaceutical lobby).
+Even Representative Ernest "Fritz" Hollings ("The Senator from Disney," who
+once proposed a bill requiring entertainment industry oversight of all
+technologies capable of copying) backed away from proposing a bill that would
+turn the Broadcast Flag into law. Instead, Hollings sent a memo to Michael
+Powell, then-head of the FCC, telling him that the FCC already had jurisdiction
+to enact a Broadcast Flag regulation, without Congressional oversight.
+Powell's staff put Hollings's letter online, as they are required to do by
+federal sunshine laws. The memo arrived as a Microsoft Word file -- which EFF
+then downloaded and analyzed. Word stashes the identity of a document's author
+in the file metadata, which is how EFF discovered that the document had been
+written by a staffer at the MPAA.
+This was truly remarkable. Hollings was a powerful committee chairman, one who
+had taken immense sums of money from the industries he was supposed to be
+regulating. It's easy to be cynical about this kind of thing, but it's
+genuinely unforgivable: politicians draw a public salary to sit in public
+office and work for the public good. They're supposed to be working for us, not
+their donors.
+But we all know that this isn't true. Politicians are happy to give special
+favors to their pals in industry. However, the Hollings memo was beyond the
+pale. Staffers for the MPAA were writing Hollings's memos, memos that Hollings
+then signed and mailed off to the heads of major governmental agencies.
+The best part was that the legal eagles at the MPAA were wrong. The FCC took
+"Hollings's" advice and enacted a Broadcast Flag regulation that was almost
+identical to the proposal from the BPDG, turning themselves into America's
+"device czars," able to burden any digital technology with "robustness,"
+"compliance" and "revocation rules." The rule lasted just long enough for the
+DC Circuit Court of Appeals to strike it down and slap the FCC for grabbing
+unprecedented jurisdiction over the devices in our living rooms.
+So ended the saga of the Broadcast Flag. More or less. In the years since the
+Flag was proposed, there have been several attempts to reintroduce it through
+legislation, all failed. And as more and more innovative, open devices like the
+Neuros OSD enter the market, it gets harder and harder to imagine that
+Americans will accept a mandate that takes away all that functionality.
+But the spirit of the Broadcast Flag lives on. DRM consortia are all the rage
+now -- outfits like AACS LA, the folks who control the DRM in Blu-Ray and
+HD-DVD, are thriving and making headlines by issuing fatwas against people who
+publish their secret integers. In Europe, a DRM consortium working under the
+auspices of the Digital Video Broadcasters Forum (DVB) has just shipped a
+proposed standard for digital TV DRM that makes the Broadcast Flag look like
+the work of patchouli-scented infohippies. The DVB proposal would give DRM
+consortium the ability to define what is and isn't a valid "household" for the
+purposes of sharing your video within your "household's devices." It limits how
+long you're allowed to pause a video for, and allows for restrictions to be put
+in place for hundreds of years, longer than any copyright system in the world
+would protect any work for.
+If all this stuff seems a little sneaky, underhanded and even illegal to you,
+you're not alone. When representatives of nearly all the world's entertainment,
+technology, broadcast, satellite and cable companies gather in a room to
+collude to cripple their offerings, limit their innovation, and restrict the
+market, regulators take notice.
+That's why the EU is taking a hard look at HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. These systems
+aren't designed: they're governed, and the governors are shadowy group of
+offshore giants who answer to no one -- not even their own members! I once
+called the DVD-Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA) on behalf of a Time-Warner
+magazine, Popular Science, for a comment about their DRM. Not only wouldn't
+they allow me to speak to a spokesman, the person who denied my request also
+refused to be identified.
+The sausage factory grinds away, but today, more activists than ever are
+finding ways to participate in the negotiations, slowing them up, making them
+account for themselves to the public. And so long as you, the technology-buying
+public, pay attention to what's going on, the activists will continue to hold
+back the tide.
+1~ 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 Hollywood, Congress, And DRM Are Beating Up The
+American Economy," InformationWeek, June 11, 2007) ~#
+Back in 1985, the Senate was ready to clobber the music industry for exposing
+America's impressionable youngsters to sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. Today, the
+the Attorney General is proposing to give the RIAA legal tools to attack people
+who attempt infringement.
+Through most of America's history, the US government has been at odds with the
+entertainment giants, treating them as purveyors of filth. But not anymore:
+today, the US Trade 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 protect Disney and
+How did entertainment go from trenchcoat pervert to top trade priority? I blame
+the "Information Economy."
+No one really knows what "Information Economy" means, but by the early 90s, we
+knew it was coming. America deployed her least reliable strategic resource to
+puzzle out what an "information economy" was and to figure out how to ensure
+America stayed atop the "new economy" -- America sent in the futurists.
+We make the future in much the same way as we make the past. We don't remember
+everything that happened to us, just selective details. We weave our memories
+together on demand, filling in any empty spaces with the present, which is
+lying around in great abundance. In Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard psych prof
+Daniel Gilbert describes an experiment in which people with delicious lunches
+in front of them are asked to remember their breakfast: overwhelmingly, the
+people with good lunches have more positive memories of breakfast than those
+who have bad lunches. We don't remember breakfast -- we look at lunch and
+superimpose it on breakfast.
+We make the future in the same way: we extrapolate as much as we can, and
+whenever we run out of imagination, we just shovel the present into the holes.
+That's why our pictures of the future always seem to resemble the present, only
+So the futurists told us about the Information Economy: they took all the
+"information-based" businesses (music, movies and microcode, in the neat
+coinage of Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash) and projected a future in
+which these would grow to dominate the world's economies.
+There was only one fly in the ointment: most of the world's economies consist
+of poor people who have more time than money, and if there's any lesson to
+learn from American college kids, it's that people with more time than money
+would rather copy information than pay for it.
+Of course they would! Why, when America was a-borning, she was a pirate nation,
+cheerfully copying the inventions of European authors and inventors. Why not?
+The fledgling revolutionary republic could copy without paying, keep the money
+on her shores, and enrich herself with the products and ideas of imperial
+Europe. Of course, once the US became a global hitter in the creative
+industries, out came the international copyright agreements: the US signed
+agreements to protect British authors in exchange for reciprocal agreements
+from the Brits to protect American authors.
+It's hard to see why a developing country would opt to export its GDP to a rich
+country when it could get the same benefit by mere copying. The US would have
+to sweeten the pot.
+The pot-sweetener is the elimination of international trade-barriers.
+Historically, the US has used tariffs to limit the import of manufactured goods
+from abroad, and to encourage the import of raw materials from abroad.
+Generally speaking, rich countries import poor countries' raw materials,
+process them into manufactured goods, and export them again. Globally speaking,
+if your country imports sugar and exports sugar cane, chances are you're poor.
+If your country imports wood and sells paper, chances are you're rich.
+In 1995, the US signed onto the World Trade Organization and its associated
+copyright and patent agreement, the TRIPS Agreement, and the American economy
+was transformed.
+Any fellow signatory to the WTO/TRIPS can export manufactured goods to the USA
+without any tariffs. If it costs you $5 to manufacture and ship a plastic
+bucket from your factory in Shenjin Province to the USA, you can sell it for $6
+and turn a $1 profit. And if it costs an American manufacturer $10 to make the
+same bucket, the American manufacturer is out of luck.
+The kicker is this: if you want to export your finished goods to America, you
+have to sign up to protect American copyrights in your own country. Quid pro
+The practical upshot, 12 years later, is that most American manufacturing has
+gone belly up, Wal-Mart is filled with Happy Meal toys and other cheaply
+manufactured plastic goods, and the whole world has signed onto US copyright
+But signing onto those laws doesn't mean you'll enforce them. Sure, where a
+country is really over a barrel (cough, Russia, cough), they'll take the
+occasional pro forma step to enforce US copyrights, no matter how ridiculous
+and totalitarian it makes them appear. But with the monthly Russian per-capita
+GDP hovering at $200, it's just not plausible that Russians are going to start
+paying $15 for a CD, nor is it likely that they'll stop listening to music
+until their economy picks up.
+But the real action is in China, where pressing bootleg media is a national
+sport. China keeps promising that it will do something about this, but it's not
+like the US has any recourse if China drags its heels. Trade courts may find
+against China, but China holds all the cards. The US can't afford to abandon
+Chinese manufacturing (and no one will vote for the politician who hextuples
+the cost of WiFi cards, brassieres, iPods, staplers, yoga mats, and spatulas by
+cutting off trade with China). The Chinese can just sit tight.
+The futurists were just plain wrong. An "information economy" can't be based on
+selling information. Information technology makes copying information easier
+and easier. The more IT you have, the less control you have over the bits you
+send out into the world. It will never, ever, EVER get any harder to copy
+information from here on in. The information economy is about selling
+everything except information.
+The US traded its manufacturing sector's health for its entertainment industry,
+hoping that Police Academy sequels could take the place of the rustbelt. The US
+bet wrong.
+But like a losing gambler who keeps on doubling down, the US doesn't know when
+to quit. It keeps meeting with its entertainment giants, asking how US foreign
+and domestic policy can preserve its business-model. Criminalize 70 million
+American file-sharers? Check. Turn the world's copyright laws upside down?
+Check. Cream the IT industry by criminalizing attempted infringement? Check.
+It'll never work. It can never work. There will always be an entertainment
+industry, but not one based on excluding access to published digital works.
+Once it's in the world, it'll be copied. This is why I give away digital copies
+of my books and make money on the printed editions: I'm not going to stop
+people from copying the electronic editions, so I might as well treat them as
+an enticement to buy the printed objects.
+But there is an information economy. You don't even need a computer to
+participate. My barber, an avowed technophobe who rebuilds antique motorcycles
+and doesn't own a PC, benefited from the information economy when I found him
+by googling for barbershops in my neighborhood.
+Teachers benefit from the information economy when they share lesson plans with
+their colleagues around the world by email. Doctors benefit from the
+information economy when they move their patient files to efficient digital
+formats. Insurance companies benefit from the information economy through
+better access to fresh data used in the preparation of actuarial tables.
+Marinas benefit from the information economy when office-slaves look up the
+weekend's weather online and decide to skip out on Friday for a weekend's
+sailing. Families of migrant workers benefit from the information economy when
+their sons and daughters wire cash home from a convenience store Western Union
+This stuff generates wealth for those who practice it. It enriches the country
+and improves our lives.
+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
+educational institutions are turned into conscript enforcers for the record
+industry, they cannot co-exist.
+The information economy is all around us. The countries that embrace it will
+emerge as global economic superpowers. The countries that stubbornly hold to
+the simplistic idea that the information economy is about selling information
+will end up at the bottom of the pile.
+What country do you want to live in?
+1~ Why Is Hollywood Making A Sequel To The Napster Wars?
+(Originally published in InformationWeek, August 14, 2007) ~#
+Hollywood loves sequels -- they're generally a safe bet, provided that you're
+continuing an already successful franchise. But you'd have to be nuts to shoot
+a sequel to a disastrous flop -- say, The Adventures of Pluto Nash or Town and
+As disastrous as Pluto Nash was, it was practically painless when compared to
+the Napster debacle. That shipwreck took place six years ago, when the record
+industry succeeded in shutting down the pioneering file-sharing service, and
+they show no signs of recovery.
+!_ The disastrous thing about Napster wasn't that it it existed, but rather
+that the record industry managed to kill it.
+Napster had an industry-friendly business-model: raise venture capital, start
+charging for access to the service, and then pay billions of dollars to the
+record companies in exchange for licenses to their works. Yes, they kicked this
+plan off without getting permission from the record companies, but that's not
+so unusual. The record companies followed the same business plan a hundred
+years ago, when they started recording sheet music without permission, raising
+capital and garnering profits, and *{then}* working out a deal to pay the
+composers for the works they'd built their fortunes on.
+Napster's plan was plausible. They had the fastest-adopted technology in the
+history of the world, garnering 52,000,000 users in 18 months -- more than had
+voted for either candidate in the preceding US election! -- and discovering,
+via surveys, that a sizable portion would happily pay between $10 and $15 a
+month for the service. What's more, Napster's architecture included a
+gatekeeper that could be used to lock-out non-paying users.
+The record industry refused to deal. Instead, they sued, bringing Napster to
+its knees. Bertelsmann bought Napster out of the ensuing bankruptcy, a pattern
+that was followed by other music giants, like Universal, who slayed MP3.com in
+the courts, then brought home the corpse on the cheap, running it as an
+internal project.
+After that, the record companies had a field day: practically every
+venture-funded P2P company went down, and millions of dollars were funneled
+from the tech venture capital firms to Sand Hill Road to the RIAA's members,
+using P2P companies and the courts as conduits.
+But the record companies weren't ready to replace these services with equally
+compelling alternatives. Instead, they fielded inferior replacements like
+PressPlay, with limited catalog, high prices, and anti-copying technology
+(digital rights management, or DRM) that alienated users by the millions by
+treating them like crooks instead of customers. These half-baked ventures did
+untold damage to the record companies and their parent firms.
+Just look at Sony: they should have been at the top of the heap. They produce
+some of the world's finest, best-designed electronics. They own one of the
+largest record labels in the world. The synergy should have been incredible.
+Electronics would design the walkmen, music would take care of catalog, and
+marketing would sell it all.
+You know the joke about European hell? The English do the cooking, the Germans
+are the lovers, the Italians are the police and the French run the government.
+With Sony, it seemed like music was designing the walkmen, marketing was doing
+the catalog, and electronic was in charge of selling. Sony's portable players
+-- the MusicClip and others -- were so crippled by anti-copying technology that
+they couldn't even play MP3s, and the music selection at Sony services like
+PressPlay was anemic, expensive, and equally hobbled. Sony isn't even a name in
+the portable audio market anymore -- today's walkman is an iPod.
+Of course, Sony still has a record-label -- for now. But sales are falling, and
+the company is reeling from the 2005 "rootkit" debacle, where in deliberately
+infected eight million music CDs with a hacker tool called a rootkit,
+compromising over 500,000 US computer networks, including military and
+government networks, all in a (failed) bid to stop copying of its CDs.
+The public wasn't willing to wait for Sony and the rest to wake up and offer a
+service that was as compelling, exciting and versatile as Napster. Instead,
+they flocked to a new generation of services like Kazaa and the various
+Gnutella networks. Kazaa's business model was to set up offshore, on the tiny
+Polynesian island of Vanuatu, and bundle spyware with its software, making its
+profits off of fees from spyware crooks. Kazaa didn't want to pay billions for
+record industry licenses -- they used the international legal and finance
+system to hopelessly snarl the RIAA's members through half a decade of wild
+profitability. The company was eventually brought to ground, but the founders
+walked away and started Skype and then Joost.
+Meantime, dozens of other services had sprung up to fill Kazaa's niche --
+AllofMP3, the notorious Russian site, was eventually killed through
+intervention of the US Trade Representative and the WTO, and was reborn
+practically the next day under a new name.
+It's been eight years since Sean Fanning created Napster in his college
+dorm-room. Eight years later, there isn't a single authorized music service
+that can compete with the original Napster. Record sales are down every year,
+and digital music sales aren't filling in the crater. The record industry has
+contracted to four companies, and it may soon be three if EMI can get
+regulatory permission to put itself on the block.
+The sue-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out plan was a flop in the box office, a
+flop in home video, and a flop overseas. So why is Hollywood shooting a remake?
+YouTube, 2007, bears some passing similarity to Napster, 2001. Founded by a
+couple guys in a garage, rocketed to popular success, heavily capitalized by a
+deep-pocketed giant. Its business model? Turn popularity into dollars and offer
+a share to the rightsholders whose works they're using. This is an historically
+sound plan: cable operators got rich by retransmitting broadcasts without
+permission, and once they were commercial successes, they sat down to negotiate
+to pay for those copyrights (just as the record companies negotiated with
+composers *{after}* they'd gotten rich selling records bearing those
+YouTube 07 has another similarity to Napster 01: it is being sued by
+entertainment companies.
+Only this time, it's not (just) the record industry. 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
+judgment would send a message to the tech industry not to field this kind of
+service anymore.
+Let's hope he's wrong. Google -- YouTube's owners -- is a grown-up of a
+company, unusual in a tech industry populated by corporate adolescents. They
+have lots of money and a sober interest in keeping it. They want to sit down
+with A/V rightsholders and do a deal. Six years after the Napster verdict, that
+kind of willingness is in short supply.
+Most of the tech "companies" with an interest in commercializing Internet AV
+have no interest in sitting down with the studios. They're either nebulous open
+source projects (like mythtv, a free hyper-TiVo that skips commercials,
+downloads and shares videos and is wide open to anyone who wants to modify and
+improve it), politically motivated anarchists (like ThePirateBay, a Swedish
+BitTorrent tracker site that has mirrors in three countries with
+non-interoperable legal systems, where they respond to legal notices by writing
+sarcastic and profane letters and putting them online), or out-and-out crooks
+like the bootleggers who use P2P to seed their DVD counterfeiting operations.
+It's not just YouTube. TiVo, who pioneered the personal video recorder, is
+feeling the squeeze, being systematically locked out of the digital cable and
+satellite market. Their efforts to add a managed TiVoToGo service were attacked
+by the rightsholders who fought at the FCC to block them. Cable/satellite
+operators and the studios would much prefer the public to transition to
+"bundled" PVRs that come with your TV service.
+These boxes are owned by the cable/satellite companies, who have absolute
+control over them. Time-Warner has been known to remotely delete stored
+episodes of shows just before the DVD ships, and many operators have started
+using "flags" that tell recorders not to allow fast-forwarding, or to prevent
+recording altogether.
+The reason that YouTube and TiVo are more popular than ThePirateBay and mythtv
+is that they're the easiest way for the public to get what it wants -- the
+video we want, the way we want it. We use these services because they're like
+the original Napster: easy, well-designed, functional.
+But if the entertainment industry squeezes these players out, ThePirateBay and
+mythtv are right there, waiting to welcome us in with open arms. ThePirateBay
+has already announced that it is launching a YouTube competitor with no-plugin,
+in-browser viewing. Plenty of entrepreneurs are looking at easing the pain and
+cast of setting up your own mythtv box. The only reason that the barriers to
+BitTorrent and mythtv exist is that it hasn't been worth anyone's while to
+capitalize projects to bring them down. But once the legit competitors of these
+services are killed, look out.
+The thing is, the public doesn't want managed 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.
+There's no good excuse for going into production 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 obsolete by
+Internet distribution -- and the record industry has locked itself out of the
+only profitable, popular music distribution systems yet invented.
+Companies like Google/YouTube and TiVo are rarities: tech companies that want
+to do deals. They need to be cherished by entertainment companies, not sued.
+(Thanks to Bruce Nash and The-Numbers.com for research assistance with this
+1~ You DO Like Reading Off a Computer Screen
+(Originally published in Locus Magazine, March 2007) ~#
+"I don't like reading off a computer screen" -- it's a cliché of the e-book
+world. It means "I don't read novels off of computer screens" (or phones, or
+PDAs, or dedicated e-book readers), and often as not the person who says it is
+someone who, in fact, spends every hour that Cthulhu sends reading off a
+computer screen. It's like watching someone shovel Mars Bars into his gob while
+telling you how much he hates chocolate.
+But I know what you mean. You don't like reading long-form works off of a
+computer screen. I understand perfectly -- in the ten minutes since I typed the
+first word in the paragraph above, I've checked my mail, deleted two spams,
+checked an image-sharing community I like, downloaded a YouTube clip of Stephen
+Colbert complaining about the iPhone (pausing my MP3 player first), cleared out
+my RSS reader, and then returned to write this paragraph.
+This is not an ideal environment in which to concentrate on long-form narrative
+(sorry, one sec, gotta blog this guy who's made cardboard furniture) (wait, the
+Colbert clip's done, gotta start the music up) (19 more RSS items). But that's
+not to say that it's not an entertainment medium -- indeed, practically
+everything I do on the computer entertains the hell out of me. It's nearly all
+text-based, too. Basically, what I do on the computer is pleasure-reading. But
+it's a fundamentally more scattered, splintered kind of pleasure. Computers
+have their own cognitive style, and it's not much like the cognitive style
+invented with the first modern novel (one sec, let me google that and confirm
+it), Don Quixote, some 400 years ago.
+The novel is an invention, one that was engendered by technological changes in
+information display, reproduction, and distribution. The cognitive style of the
+novel is different from the cognitive style of the legend. The cognitive style
+of the computer is different from the cognitive style of the novel.
+Computers want you to do lots of things with them. Networked computers doubly
+so -- they (another RSS item) have a million ways of asking for your attention,
+and just as many ways of rewarding it.
+There's a persistent fantasy/nightmare in the publishing world of the advent of
+very sharp, very portable computer screens. In the fantasy version, this
+creates an infinite new market for electronic books, and we all get to sell the
+rights to our work all over again. In the nightmare version, this leads to
+runaway piracy, and no one ever gets to sell a novel again.
+I think they're both wrong. The infinitely divisible copyright ignores the
+"decision cost" borne by users who have to decide, over and over again, whether
+they want to spend a millionth of a cent on a millionth of a word -- no one
+buys newspapers by the paragraph, even though most of us only read a slim
+fraction of any given paper. A super-sharp, super-portable screen would be used
+to read all day long, but most of us won't spend most of our time reading
+anything recognizable as a book on them.
+Take the record album. Everything about it is technologically pre-determined.
+The technology of the LP demanded artwork to differentiate one package from the
+next. The length was set by the groove density of the pressing plants and
+playback apparatus. The dynamic range likewise. These factors gave us the idea
+of the 40-to-60-minute package, split into two acts, with accompanying artwork.
+Musicians were encouraged to create works that would be enjoyed as a unitary
+whole for a protracted period -- think of Dark Side of the Moon, or Sgt.
+No one thinks about albums today. Music is now divisible to the single, as
+represented by an individual MP3, and then subdivisible into snippets like
+ringtones and samples. When recording artists demand that their works be
+considered as a whole -- like when Radiohead insisted that the iTunes Music
+Store sell their whole album as a single, indivisible file that you would have
+to listen to all the way through -- they sound like cranky throwbacks.
+The idea of a 60-minute album is as weird in the Internet era as the idea of
+sitting through 15 hours of Der Ring des Nibelungen was 20 years ago. There are
+some anachronisms who love their long-form opera, but the real action is in the
+more fluid stuff that can slither around on hot wax -- and now the superfluid
+droplets of MP3s and samples. Opera survives, but it is a tiny sliver of a much
+bigger, looser music market. The future composts the past: old operas get
+mounted for living anachronisms; Andrew Lloyd Webber picks up the rest of the
+Or look at digital video. We're watching more digital video, sooner, than
+anyone imagined. But we're watching it in three-minute chunks from YouTube. The
+video's got a pause button so you can stop it when the phone rings and a
+scrubber to go back and forth when you miss something while answering an IM.
+And attention spans don't increase when you move from the PC to a handheld
+device. These things have less capacity for multitasking than real PCs, and the
+network connections are slower and more expensive. But they are fundamentally
+multitasking devices -- you can always stop reading an e-book to play a hand of
+solitaire that is interrupted by a phone call -- and their social context is
+that they are used in public places, with a million distractions. It is
+socially acceptable to interrupt someone who is looking at a PDA screen. By
+contrast, the TV room -- a whole room for TV! -- is a shrine where none may
+speak until the commercial airs.
+The problem, then, isn't that screens aren't sharp enough to read novels off
+of. The problem is that novels aren't screeny enough to warrant protracted,
+regular reading on screens.
+Electronic books are a wonderful adjunct to print books. It's great to have a
+couple hundred novels in your pocket when the plane doesn't take off or the
+line is too long at the post office. It's cool to be able to search the text of
+a novel to find a beloved passage. It's excellent to use a novel socially,
+sending it to your friends, pasting it into your sig file.
+But the numbers tell their own story -- people 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.
+There's a generation of web writers who produce "pleasure reading" on the web.
+Some are funny. Some are touching. Some are enraging. Most dwell in Sturgeon's
+90th percentile and below. They're not writing novels. If they were, they
+wouldn't be web writers.
+Mostly, we can read just enough of a free e-book to decide whether to buy it in
+hardcopy -- but not enough to substitute the e-book for the hardcopy. Like
+practically everything in marketing and promotion, the trick is to find the
+form of the work that serves as enticement, not replacement.
+Sorry, got to go -- eight more e-mails.
+1~ How Do You Protect Artists?
+(Originally published in The Guardian as "Online censorship hurts us all,"
+Tuesday, Oct 2, 2007) ~#
+Artists have lots of problems. We get plagiarized, ripped off by publishers,
+savaged by critics, counterfeited -- and we even get our works copied by
+"pirates" who give our stuff away for free online.
+But no matter how bad these problems get, they're a distant second to the
+gravest, most terrifying problem an artist can face: censorship.
+It's one thing to be denied your credit or compensation, but it's another thing
+entirely to have your work suppressed, burned or banned. You'd never know it,
+however, judging from the state of the law surrounding the creation and use of
+internet publishing tools.
+Since 1995, every single legislative initiative on this subject in the UK's
+parliament, the European parliament and the US Congress has focused on making
+it easier to suppress "illegitimate" material online. From libel to copyright
+infringement, from child porn to anti-terror laws, our legislators have
+approached the internet with a single-minded focus on seeing to it that bad
+material is expeditiously removed.
+And that's the rub. I'm certainly no fan of child porn or hate speech, but
+every time a law is passed that reduces the burden of proof on those who would
+remove material from the internet, artists' fortunes everywhere are endangered.
+Take the US's 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has equivalents in
+every European state that has implemented the 2001 European Union Copyright
+Directive. The DMCA allows anyone to have any document on the internet removed,
+simply by contacting its publisher and asserting that the work infringes his
+The potential for abuse is obvious, and the abuse has been widespread: from the
+Church of Scientology to companies that don't like what reporters write about
+them, DMCA takedown notices have fast become the favorite weapon in the
+cowardly bully's arsenal.
+But takedown notices are just the start. While they can help silence critics
+and suppress timely information, they're not actually very effective at
+stopping widespread copyright infringement. Viacom sent over 100,000 takedown
+notices to YouTube last February, but seconds after it was all removed, new
+users uploaded it again.
+Even these takedown notices were sloppily constructed: they included videos of
+friends eating at barbecue restaurants and videos of independent bands
+performing their own work. As a Recording Industry Association of America
+spokesman quipped, "When you go trawling with a net, you catch a few dolphins."
+Viacom and others want hosting companies and online service providers to
+preemptively evaluate all the material that their users put online, holding it
+to ensure that it doesn't infringe copyright before they release it.
+This notion is impractical in the extreme, for at least two reasons. First, an
+exhaustive list of copyrighted works would be unimaginably huge, as every
+single creative work is copyrighted from the instant that it is created and
+"fixed in a tangible medium".
+Second, even if such a list did exist, it would be trivial to defeat, simply by
+introducing small changes to the infringing copies, as spammers do with the
+text of their messages in order to evade spam filters.
+In fact, the spam wars have some important lessons to teach us here. Like
+copyrighted works, spams are infinitely varied and more are being created every
+second. Any company that could identify spam messages -- including permutations
+and variations on existing spams -- could write its own ticket to untold
+Some of the smartest, most dedicated engineers on the planet devote every
+waking hour to figuring out how to spot spam before it gets delivered. If your
+inbox is anything like mine, you'll agree that the war is far from won.
+If the YouTubes of the world are going to prevent infringement, they're going
+to have to accomplish this by hand-inspecting every one of the tens of billions
+of blog posts, videos, text-files, music files and software uploads made to
+every single server on the internet.
+And not just cursory inspections, either -- these inspections will have to be
+undertaken by skilled, trained specialists (who'd better be talented linguists,
+too -- how many English speakers can spot an infringement in Urdu?).
+Such experts don't come cheap, which means that you can anticipate a terrible
+denuding of the fertile jungle of internet hosting companies that are primary
+means by which tens of millions of creative people share the fruits of their
+labor with their fans and colleagues.
+It would be a great Sovietisation of the world's digital printing presses, a
+contraction of a glorious anarchy of expression into a regimented world of
+expensive and narrow venues for art.
+It would be a death knell for the kind of focused, non-commercial material
+whose authors couldn't fit the bill for a "managed" service's legion of
+lawyers, who would be replaced by more of the same -- the kind of lowest common
+denominator rubbish that fills the cable channels today.
+And the worst of it is, we're marching toward this "solution" in the name of
+protecting artists. Gee, thanks.
+1~ It's the Information Economy, Stupid
+(Originally published in The Guardian as "Free data sharing is here to stay,"
+September 18, 2007) ~#
+Since the 1970s, pundits have predicted a transition to an "information
+economy." The vision of an economy based on information seized the imaginations
+of the world's governments. For decades now, they have been creating policies
+to "protect" information -- stronger copyright laws, international treaties on
+patents and trademarks, treaties to protect anti-copying technology.
+The thinking is simple: an information economy must be based on buying and
+selling information. Therefore, we need policies to make it harder to get
+access to information unless you've paid for it. That means that we have to
+make it harder for you to share information, even after you've paid for it.
+Without the ability to fence off your information property, you can't have an
+information market to fuel the information economy.
+But this is a tragic case of misunderstanding a metaphor. Just as the
+industrial economy wasn't based on making it harder to get access to machines,
+the information economy won't be based on making it harder to get access to
+information. Indeed, the opposite seems to be true: the more IT we have, the
+easier it is to access any given piece of information -- for better or for
+It used to be that copy-prevention companies' strategies went like this: "We'll
+make it easier to buy a copy of this data than to make an unauthorized copy of
+it. That way, only the uber-nerds and the cash-poor/time-rich classes will
+bother to copy instead of buy." But every time a PC is connected to the
+Internet and its owner is taught to use search tools like Google (or The Pirate
+Bay), a third option appears: you can just download a copy from the Internet.
+Every techno-literate participant in the information economy can choose to
+access any data, without having to break the anti-copying technology, just by
+searching for the cracked copy on the public Internet. If there's one thing we
+can be sure of, it's that an information economy will increase the
+technological literacy of its participants.
+As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Shanghai, behind the Great
+Firewall of China. Theoretically, I can't access blogging services that carry
+negative accounts of Beijing's doings, like Wordpress, Blogspot and
+Livejournal, nor the image-sharing site Flickr, nor Wikipedia. The
+(theoretically) omnipotent bureaucrats of the local Minitrue have deployed
+their finest engineering talent to stop me. Well, these cats may be able to
+order political prisoners executed and their organs harvested for Party
+members, but they've totally failed to keep Chinese people (and big-nose
+tourists like me) off the world's Internet. The WTO is rattling its sabers at
+China today, demanding that they figure out how to stop Chinese people from
+looking at Bruce Willis movies without permission -- but the Chinese government
+can't even figure out how to stop Chinese people from looking at seditious
+revolutionary tracts online.
+And, of course, as Paris Hilton, the Church of Scientology and the King of
+Thailand have discovered, taking a piece of information off the Internet is
+like getting food coloring out of a swimming pool. Good luck with that.
+To see the evidence of the real information economy, look to all the economic
+activity that the Internet enables -- not the stuff that it impedes. All the
+commerce conducted by salarymen who can book their own flights with Expedia
+instead of playing blind-man's bluff with a travel agent ("Got any flights
+after 4PM to Frankfurt?"). All the garage crafters selling their goods on
+Etsy.com. All the publishers selling obscure books through Amazon that no
+physical bookstore was willing to carry. The salwar kameez tailors in India
+selling bespoke clothes to westerners via eBay, without intervention by a
+series of skimming intermediaries. The Internet-era musicians who use the net
+to pack venues all over the world by giving away their recordings on social
+services like MySpace. Hell, look at my last barber, in Los Angeles: the man
+doesn't use a PC, but I found him by googling for "barbers" with my postcode --
+the information economy is driving his cost of customer acquisition to zero,
+and he doesn't even have to actively participate in it.
+Better access to more information is the hallmark 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 information
+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 nothing but an info-broker -- but none of us rely on
+curtailing access to information. Like a bottled water company, we compete with
+free by supplying a superior service, not by eliminating the competition.
+The world's governments might have bought into the old myth of the information
+economy, but not so much that they're willing to ban the PC and the Internet.
+1~ Downloads Give Amazon Jungle Fever
+(Originally published in The Guardian, December 11, 2007) ~#
+Let me start by saying that I love Amazon. I buy everything from books to
+clothes to electronics to medication to food to batteries to toys to furniture
+to baby supplies from the company. I once even bought an ironing board on
+Amazon. No company can top them for ease of use or for respecting consumer
+rights when it comes to refunds, ensuring satisfaction, and taking good care of
+loyal customers.
+As a novelist, I couldn't be happier about Amazon's existence. Not only does
+Amazon have a set of superb recommendation tools that help me sell books, but
+it also has an affiliate program that lets me get up to 8.5% in commissions for
+sales of my books through the site - nearly doubling my royalty rate.
+As a consumer advocate and activist, I'm delighted by almost every public
+policy initiative from Amazon. When the Author's Guild tried to get Amazon to
+curtail its used-book market, the company refused to back down. Founder Jeff
+Bezos (who is a friend of mine) even wrote, "when someone buys a book, they are
+also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it
+away if they want. Everyone understands this."
+More recently, Amazon stood up to the US government, who'd gone on an illegal
+fishing expedition for terrorists (TERRORISTS! TERRORISTS! TERRORISTS!) and
+asked Amazon to turn over the purchasing history of 24,000 Amazon customers.
+The company spent a fortune fighting for our rights, and won.
+It also has a well-deserved reputation for taking care over copyright
+"takedown" notices for the material that its customers post on its site,
+discarding ridiculous claims rather than blindly acting on every single notice,
+no matter how frivolous.
+But for all that, it has to be said: Whenever Amazon tries to sell a digital
+download, it turns into one of the dumbest companies on the web.
+Take the Kindle, the $400 handheld ebook reader that Amazon shipped recently,
+to vast, ringing indifference.
+The device is cute enough - in a clumsy, overpriced, generation-one kind of way
+- but the early adopter community recoiled in horror at the terms of service
+and anti-copying technology that infected it. Ebooks that you buy through the
+Kindle can't be lent or resold (remember, "when someone buys a book, they are
+also buying the right to resell that book...Everyone understands this.")
+Mark Pilgrim's "The Future of Reading" enumerates five other Kindle
+showstoppers: Amazon can change your ebooks without notifying you or getting
+your permission; and if you violate any of the "agreement", it can delete your
+ebooks, even if you've paid for them, and you get no appeal.
+It's not just the Kindle, either. Amazon Unbox, the semi-abortive video
+download service, shipped with terms of service that included your granting
+permission for Amazon to install any software on your computer, to spy on you,
+to delete your videos, to delete any other file on your hard drive, to deny you
+access to your movies if you lose them in a crash. This comes from the company
+that will cheerfully ship you a replacement DVD if you email them and tell them
+that the one you just bought never turned up in the post.
+Even Amazon's much-vaunted MP3 store comes with terms of service that prevent
+lending and reselling.
+I am mystified by this. Amazon is the kind of company that every etailer should
+study and copy - the gold standard for e-commerce. You'd think that if there
+was any company that would intuitively get the web, it would be Amazon.
+What's more, this is a company that stands up to rightsholder groups,
+publishers and the US government - but only when it comes to physical goods.
+Why is it that whenever a digital sale is in the offing, Amazon rolls over on
+its back and wets itself?
+1~ What's the Most Important Right Creators Have?
+(Originally published as "How Big Media's Copyright Campaigns Threaten Internet
+Free Expression," InformationWeek, November 5, 2007) ~#
+Any discussion of "creator's rights" is likely to be limited to talk about
+copyright, but copyright is just a side-dish for creators: the most important
+right we have is the right to free expression. And these two rights are always
+in tension.
+Take Viacom's claims against YouTube. The 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 programatically detect these clips and interdict
+But Viacom rejected this offer. Rather, the company wants YouTube to just
+figure it out, determine a priori which video clips are being presented with
+permission and which ones are not. After all, Viacom does the very same thing:
+it won't air clips until a battalion of lawyers have investigated them and
+determined whether they are lawful.
+But the Internet is not cable television. Net-based hosting outfits --
+including YouTube, Flickr, Blogger, Scribd, and the Internet Archive -- offer
+free publication venues to all comers, enabling anyone to publish anything. In
+1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Congress considered the question of
+liability for these companies and decided to offer them a mixed deal: hosting
+companies don't need to hire a million lawyers to review every blog-post before
+it goes live, but rightsholders can order them to remove any infringing
+material from the net just by sending them a notice that the material
+This deal enabled hosting companies to offer free platforms for publication and
+expression to everyone. But it also allowed anyone to censor the Internet, just
+by making claims of infringement, without offering any evidence to support
+those claims, without having to go to court to prove their claims (this has
+proven to be an attractive nuisance, presenting an irresistible lure to anyone
+with a beef against an online critic, from the Church of Scientology to
+Diebold's voting machines division).
+The proposal for online hosts to figure out what infringes and what doesn't is
+wildly impractical. Under most countries' copyright laws, creative works
+receive a copyright from the moment that they are "fixed in a tangible medium"
+(hard drives count), and this means that the pool of copyrighted works is so
+large as to be practically speaking infinite. Knowing whether a work is
+copyrighted, who holds the copyright, and whether a posting is made with the
+rightsholder's permission (or in accord with each nation's varying ideas about
+fair use) is impossible. The only way to be sure is to start from the
+presumption that each creative work is infringing, and then make each Internet
+user prove, to some lawyer's satisfaction, that she has the right to post each
+drib of content that appears on the Web.
+Imagine that such a system were the law of the land. There's no way Blogger or
+YouTube or Flickr could afford to offer free hosting to their users. Rather,
+all these hosted services would have to charge enough for access to cover the
+scorching legal bills associated with checking all material. And not just the
+freebies, either: your local ISP, the servers hosting your company's website or
+your page for family genealogy: they'd all have to do the same kind of
+continuous checking and re-checking of every file you publish with them.
+It would be the end of any publication that couldn't foot the legal bills to
+get off the ground. The multi-billion-page Internet would collapse into the
+homogeneous world of cable TV (remember when we thought that a "500-channel
+universe" would be unimaginably broad? Imagine an Internet with only 500
+"channels!"). From Amazon to Ask A Ninja, from Blogger to The Everlasting
+Blort, every bit of online content is made possible by removing the cost of
+paying lawyers to act as the Internet's gatekeepers.
+This is great news for artists. The traditional artist's lament is that our
+publishers have us over a barrel, controlling the narrow and vital channels for
+making works available -- from big gallery owners to movie studios to record
+labels to New York publishers. That's why artists have such a hard time
+negotiating a decent deal for themselves (for example, most beginning recording
+artists have to agree to have money deducted from their royalty statements for
+"breakage" of records en route to stores -- and these deductions are also
+levied against digital sales through the iTunes Store!).
+But, thanks to the web, artists have more options than ever. The Internet's
+most popular video podcasts aren't associated with TV networks (with all the
+terrible, one-sided deals that would entail), rather, they're independent
+programs like RocketBoom, Homestar Runner, or the late, lamented Ze Frank Show.
+These creators -- along with all the musicians, writers, and other artists
+using the net to earn their living -- were able to write their own ticket.
+Today, major artists like Radiohead and Madonna are leaving the record labels
+behind and trying novel, net-based ways of promoting their work.
+And it's not just the indies who benefit: the existence of successful
+independent artists creates fantastic leverage for artists who negotiate with
+the majors. More and more, the big media companies' "like it or leave it"
+bargaining stance is being undermined by the possibility that the next big star
+will shrug, turn on her heel, and make her fortune without the big companies'
+help. This has humbled the bigs, making their deals better and more
+Bargaining leverage is just for starters. The greatest threat that art faces is
+suppression. Historically, artists have struggled just to make themselves
+heard, just to safeguard the right to express themselves. Censorship is
+history's greatest enemy of art. A limited-liability Web is a Web where anyone
+can post anything and reach *{everyone}*.
+What's more, this privilege isn't limited to artists. All manner of
+communication, from the personal introspection in public "diaries" to social
+chatter on MySpace and Facebook, are now possible. Some artists have taken the
+bizarre stance that this "trivial" matter is unimportant and thus a poor excuse
+for allowing hosted services to exist in the first place. This is pretty
+arrogant: a society where only artists are allowed to impart "important"
+messages and where the rest of us are supposed to shut up about our loves,
+hopes, aspirations, jokes, family and wants is hardly a democratic paradise.
+Artists are in the free expression business, and technology that helps free
+expression helps artists. When lowering the cost of copyright enforcement
+raises the cost of free speech, every artist has a duty to speak out. Our
+ability to make our art is inextricably linked with the billions of Internet
+users who use the network to talk about their lives.
+1~ Giving it Away
+(Originally published in Forbes.com, December 2006) ~#
+I've been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has
+it ever made me a bunch of money.
+When my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was published by Tor
+Books in January 2003, I also put the entire electronic 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 concepts from it have been adopted for software projects and
+there are two competing fan audio adaptations online.
+Most people who download the book don't end up buying it, but they wouldn't
+have bought it in any event, so I haven't lost any sales, I've just won an
+audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free e-book as a substitute
+for the printed book--those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority
+treat the e-book as an enticement to buy the printed book. They're gained
+sales. As long as gained sales outnumber lost sales, I'm ahead of the game.
+After all, distributing nearly a million copies of my book has cost me nothing.
+The thing about an e-book is that it's a social object. It wants to be copied
+from friend to friend, beamed from a Palm device, pasted into a mailing list.
+It begs to be converted to witty signatures at the bottom of e-mails. It is so
+fluid and intangible that it can spread itself over your whole life. Nothing
+sells books like a personal recommendation--when I worked in a bookstore, the
+sweetest words we could hear were "My friend suggested I pick up...." The
+friend had made the sale for us, we just had to consummate it. In an age of
+online friendship, e-books trump dead trees for word of mouth.
+There are two things that writers ask me about this arrangement: First, does it
+sell more books, and second, how did you talk your publisher into going for
+this mad scheme?
+There's no empirical way to prove that giving away books sells more books--but
+I've done this with three novels and a short story collection (and I'll be
+doing it with two more novels and another collection in the next year), and my
+books have consistently outperformed my publisher's expectations. Comparing
+their sales to the numbers provided by colleagues suggests that they perform
+somewhat better than other books from similar writers at similar stages in
+their careers. But short of going back in time and re-releasing the same books
+under the same circumstances without the free e-book program, there's no way to
+be sure.
+What is certain is that every writer who's tried giving away e-books to sell
+books has come away satisfied and ready to do it some more.
+How did I talk Tor Books into letting me do this? It's not as if Tor is a
+spunky dotcom upstart. They're the largest science fiction publisher in the
+world, and they're a division of the German publishing giant Holtzbrinck.
+They're not patchouli-scented info-hippies who believe that information wants
+to be free. Rather, they're canny assessors of the world of science fiction,
+perhaps the most social of all literary genres. Science fiction is driven by
+organized fandom, volunteers who put on hundreds of literary conventions in
+every corner of the globe, every weekend of the year. These intrepid promoters
+treat books as markers of identity and as cultural artifacts of great import.
+They evangelize the books they love, form subcultures around them, cite them in
+political arguments, sometimes they even rearrange their lives and jobs around
+What's more, science fiction's early adopters defined the social character of
+the Internet itself. Given the high correlation between technical employment
+and science fiction reading, it was inevitable that the first nontechnical
+discussion on the Internet would be about science fiction. The online norms of
+idle chatter, fannish organizing, publishing and leisure are descended from SF
+fandom, and if any literature has a natural home in cyberspace, it's science
+fiction, the literature that coined the very word "cyberspace."
+Indeed, science fiction was the first form of widely pirated literature online,
+through "bookwarez" channels that contained books that had been hand-scanned, a
+page at a time, converted to digital text and proof-read. Even today, the
+mostly widely pirated literature online is SF.
+Nothing could make me more sanguine about the future. As publisher Tim O'Reilly
+wrote in his seminal essay, Piracy is Progressive Taxation, "being well-enough
+known to be pirated [is] a crowning achievement." I'd rather stake my future on
+a literature that people care about enough to steal than devote my life to a
+form that has no home in the dominant medium of the century.
+What about that future? Many writers fear that in the future, electronic books
+will come to substitute more readily for print books, due to changing audiences
+and improved technology. I am skeptical of this--the codex format has endured
+for centuries as a simple and elegant answer to the affordances demanded by
+print, albeit for a relatively small fraction of the population. Most people
+aren't and will never be readers--but the people who are readers will be
+readers forever, and they are positively pervy for paper.
+But say it does come to pass that electronic books are all anyone wants.
+I don't think it's practical to charge for copies of electronic works. Bits
+aren't ever going to get harder to copy. So we'll have to figure out how to
+charge for something else. That's not to say you can't charge for a copy-able
+bit, but you sure can't force a reader to pay for access to information
+This isn't the first time creative entrepreneurs have gone through one of these
+transitions. Vaudeville performers had to transition to radio, an abrupt shift
+from having perfect control over who could hear a performance (if they don't
+buy a ticket, you throw them out) to no control whatsoever (any family whose
+12-year-old could build a crystal set, the day's equivalent of installing
+file-sharing software, could tune in). There were business models for radio,
+but predicting them a priori wasn't easy. Who could have foreseen that radio's
+great fortunes would be had through creating a blanket license, securing a
+Congressional consent decree, chartering a collecting society and inventing a
+new form of statistical mathematics to fund it?
+Predicting the future of publishing--should the wind change and printed books
+become obsolete--is just as hard. I don't know how writers would earn their
+living in such a world, but I do know that I'll never find out by turning my
+back on the Internet. By being in the middle of electronic publishing, by
+watching what hundreds of thousands of my readers do with my e-books, I get
+better market intelligence than I could through any other means. As does my
+publisher. As serious as I am about continuing to work as a writer for the
+foreseeable future, Tor Books and Holtzbrinck are just as serious. They've got
+even more riding on the future of publishing than me. So when I approached my
+publisher with this plan to give away books to sell books, it was a no-brainer
+for them.
+It's good business for me, too. This "market research" of giving away e-books
+sells printed books. What's more, having my books more widely read opens many
+other opportunities for me to earn a living from activities around my writing,
+such as the Fulbright Chair I got at USC this year, this high-paying article in
+Forbes, speaking engagements and other opportunities to teach, write and
+license my work for translation and adaptation. My fans' tireless evangelism
+for my work doesn't just sell books--it sells me.
+The golden age of hundreds of writers who lived off of nothing but their
+royalties is bunkum. Throughout history, writers have relied on day jobs,
+teaching, grants, inheritances, translation, licensing and other varied sources
+to make ends meet. The Internet not only sells more books for me, it also gives
+me more opportunities to earn my keep through writing-related activities.
+There has never been a time when more people were reading more words by more
+authors. The Internet is a literary world of written words. What a fine thing
+that is for writers.
+1~ Science Fiction is the Only Literature People Care Enough About to Steal on
+the Internet
+(Originally published in Locus Magazine, July 2006)
+As a science fiction writer, no piece of news could make me more hopeful. It
+beats the hell out of the alternative -- a future where the dominant,
+pluripotent, ubiquitous medium has no place for science fiction literature.
+When radio and records were invented, they were pretty bad news for the
+performers of the day. Live performance demanded charisma, the ability to
+really put on a magnetic show in front of a crowd. It didn't matter how
+technically accomplished you were: if you stood like a statue on stage, no one
+wanted to see you do your thing. On the other hand, you succeeded as a mediocre
+player, provided you attacked your performance with a lot of brio.
+Radio was clearly good news for musicians -- lots more musicians were able to
+make lots more music, reaching lots more people and making lots more money. It
+turned performance into an industry, which is what happens when you add
+technology to art. But it was terrible news for charismatics. It put them out
+on the street, stuck them with flipping burgers and driving taxis. They knew
+it, too. Performers lobbied to have the Marconi radio banned, to send Marconi
+back to the drawing board, charged with inventing a radio they could charge
+admission to. "We're charismatics, we do something as old and holy as the first
+story told before the first fire in the first cave. What right have you to
+insist that we should become mere clerks, working in an obscure back-room,
+leaving you to commune with our audiences on our behalf?"
+Technology giveth and technology taketh away. Seventy years later, Napster
+showed us that, as William Gibson noted, "We may be at the end of the brief
+period during which it is possible to charge for recorded music." Surely we're
+at the end of the period where it's possible to exclude those who don't wish to
+pay. Every song released can be downloaded gratis from a peer-to-peer network
+(and will shortly get easier to download, as hard-drive price/performance
+curves take us to a place where all the music ever recorded will fit on a
+disposable pocket-drive that you can just walk over to a friend's place and
+But have no fear: the Internet makes it possible for recording artists to reach
+a wider audience than ever dreamt of before. Your potential fans may be spread
+in a thin, even coat over the world, in a configuration that could never be
+cost-effective to reach with traditional marketing. But the Internet's ability
+to lower the costs for artists to reach their audiences and for audiences to
+find artists suddenly renders possible more variety in music than ever before.
+Those artists can use the Internet to bring people back to the live
+performances that characterized the heyday of Vaudeville. Use your recordings
+-- which you can't control -- to drive admissions to your performances, which
+you can control. It's a model that's worked great for jam bands like the
+Grateful Dead and Phish. It's also a model that won't work for many of today's
+artists; 70 years of evolutionary pressure has selected for artists who are
+more virtuoso than charismatic, artists optimized for recording-based income
+instead of performance-based income. "How dare you tell us that we are to be
+trained monkeys, capering on a stage for your amusement? We're not
+charismatics, we're white-collar workers. We commune with our muses behind
+closed doors and deliver up our work product when it's done, through plastic,
+laser-etched discs. You have no right to demand that we convert to a
+live-performance economy."
+Technology giveth and technology taketh away. As bands on MySpace -- who can
+fill houses and sell hundreds of thousands of discs without a record deal, by
+connecting individually with fans -- have shown, there's a new market aborning
+on the Internet for music, one with fewer gatekeepers to creativity than ever
+That's the purpose of copyright, after all: to decentralize who gets to make
+art. Before copyright, we had patronage: you could make art if the Pope or the
+king liked the sound of it. That produced some damned pretty ceilings and
+frescos, but it wasn't until control of art was given over to the market -- by
+giving publishers a monopoly over the works they printed, starting with the
+Statute of Anne in 1710 -- that we saw the explosion of creativity that
+investment-based art could create. Industrialists weren't great arbiters of who
+could and couldn't make art, but they were better than the Pope.
+The Internet is enabling a further decentralization in who gets to make art,
+and like each of the technological shifts in cultural production, it's good for
+some artists and bad for others. The important question is: will it let more
+people participate in cultural production? Will it further decentralize
+decision-making for artists?
+And for SF writers and fans, the further question is, "Will it be any good to
+our chosen medium?" Like I said, science fiction is the only literature people
+care enough about to steal on the Internet. It's the only literature that
+regularly shows up, scanned and run through optical character recognition
+software and lovingly hand-edited on darknet newsgroups, Russian websites, IRC
+channels and elsewhere (yes, there's also a brisk trade in comics and technical
+books, but I'm talking about prose fiction here -- though this is clearly a
+sign of hope for our friends in tech publishing and funnybooks).
+Some writers are using the Internet's affinity for SF to great effect. I've
+released every one of my novels under Creative Commons licenses that encourage
+fans to share them freely and widely -- even, in some cases, to remix them and
+to make new editions of them for use in the developing world. My first novel,
+Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, is in its sixth printing from Tor, and has
+been downloaded more than 650,000 times from my website, and an untold number
+of times from others' websites.
+I've discovered what many authors have also discovered: releasing electronic
+texts of books drives sales of the print editions. An SF writer's biggest
+problem is obscurity, not piracy. Of all the people who chose not to spend
+their discretionary time and cash on our works today, the great bulk of them
+did so because they didn't know they existed, not because someone handed them a
+free e-book version.
+But what kind of artist thrives on the Internet? Those who can establish a
+personal relationship with their readers -- something science fiction has been
+doing for as long as pros have been hanging out in the con suite instead of the
+green room. These conversational artists come from all fields, and they combine
+the best aspects of charisma and virtuosity with charm -- the ability to
+conduct their online selves as part of a friendly salon that establishes a
+non-substitutable relationship with their audiences. You might find a film, a
+game, and a book to be equally useful diversions on a slow afternoon, but if
+the novel's author is a pal of yours, that's the one you'll pick. It's a
+competitive advantage that can't be beat.
+See Neil Gaiman's blog, where he manages the trick of carrying on a
+conversation with millions. Or Charlie Stross's Usenet posts. Scalzi's blogs.
+J. Michael Straczynski's presence on Usenet -- while in production on Babylon
+5, no less -- breeding an army of rabid fans ready to fax-bomb recalcitrant TV
+execs into submission and syndication. See also the MySpace bands selling a
+million units of their CDs by adding each buyer to their "friends lists." Watch
+Eric Flint manage the Baen Bar, and Warren Ellis's good-natured growling on his
+sites, lists, and so forth.
+Not all artists have in them to conduct an online salon with their audiences.
+Not all Vaudevillians had it in them to transition to radio. Technology giveth
+and technology taketh away. SF writers are supposed to be soaked in the future,
+ready to come to grips with it. The future is conversational: when there's more
+good stuff that you know about that's one click away or closer than you will
+ever click on, it's not enough to know that some book is good. The least
+substitutable good in the Internet era is the personal relationship.
+Conversation, not content, is king. If you were stranded on a desert island and
+you opted to bring your records instead of your friends, we'd call you a
+sociopath. Science fiction writers who can insert themselves into their
+readers' conversations will be set for life.
+1~ How Copyright Broke
+(Originally published in Locus Magazine, September, 2006) ~#
+The theory is that if the Internet can't be controlled, then copyright is dead.
+The thing is, the Internet is a machine for copying things cheaply, quickly,
+and with as little control as possible, while copyright is the right to control
+who gets to make copies, so these two abstractions seem destined for a fatal
+collision, right?
+The idea that copyright confers the exclusive right to control copying,
+performance, adaptation, and general use of a creative work is a polite fiction
+that has been mostly harmless throughout its brief history, but which has been
+laid bare by the Internet, and the disjoint is showing.
+Theoretically, if I sell you a copy of one of my novels, I'm conferring upon
+you a property interest in a lump of atoms -- the pages of the book -- as well
+as a license to make some reasonable use of the ethereal ideas embedded upon
+the page, the copyrighted work.
+Copyright started with a dispute between Scottish and English publishers, and
+the first copyright law, 1709's Statute of Anne, conferred the exclusive right
+to publish new editions of a book on the copyright holder. It was a fair
+competition statute, and it was silent on the rights that the copyright holder
+had in respect of his customers: the readers. Publishers got a legal tool to
+fight their competitors, a legal tool that made a distinction between the
+corpus -- a physical book -- and the spirit -- the novel writ on its pages. But
+this legal nicety was not "customer-facing." As far as a reader was concerned,
+once she bought a book, she got the same rights to it as she got to any other
+physical object, like a potato or a shovel. Of course, the reader couldn't
+print a new edition, but this had as much to do with the realities of
+technology as it did with the law. Printing presses were rare and expensive:
+telling a 17th-century reader that he wasn't allowed to print a new edition of
+a book you sold him was about as meaningful as telling him he wasn't allowed to
+have it laser-etched on the surface of the moon. Publishing books wasn't
+something readers did.
+Indeed, until the photocopier came along, it was practically impossible for a
+member of the audience to infringe copyright in a way that would rise to legal
+notice. Copyright was like a tank-mine, designed only to go off when a
+publisher or record company or radio station rolled over it. We civilians
+couldn't infringe copyright (many thanks to Jamie Boyle for this useful
+It wasn't the same for commercial users of copyrighted works. For the most
+part, a radio station that played a record was expected to secure permission to
+do so (though this permission usually comes in the form of a
+government-sanctioned blanket license that cuts through all the expense of
+negotiating in favor of a single monthly payment that covers all radio play).
+If you shot a movie, you were expected to get permission for the music you put
+in it. Critically, there are many uses that commercial users never paid for.
+Most workplaces don't pay for the music their employees enjoy while they work.
+An ad agency that produces a demo reel of recent commercials to use as part of
+a creative briefing to a designer doesn't pay for this extremely commercial
+use. A film company whose set-designer clips and copies from magazines and
+movies to produce a "mood book" never secures permission nor offers
+compensation for these uses.
+Theoretically, the contours of what you may and may not do without permission
+are covered under a legal doctrine called "fair use," which sets out the
+factors a judge can use to weigh the question of whether an infringement should
+be punished. While fair use is a vital part of the way that works get made and
+used, it's very rare for an unauthorized use to get adjudicated on this basis.
+No, the realpolitik of unauthorized use is that users are not required to
+secure permission for uses that the rights holder will never discover. If you
+put some magazine clippings in your mood book, the magazine publisher will
+never find out you did so. If you stick a Dilbert cartoon on your office-door,
+Scott Adams will never know about it.
+So while technically the law has allowed rights holders to infinitely
+discriminate among the offerings they want to make -- Special discounts on this
+book, which may only be read on Wednesdays! This film half-price, if you agree
+only to show it to people whose names start with D! -- practicality has
+dictated that licenses could only be offered on enforceable terms.
+When it comes to retail customers for information goods -- readers, listeners,
+watchers -- this whole license abstraction falls flat. No one wants to believe
+that the book he's brought home is only partly his, and subject to the terms of
+a license set out on the flyleaf. You'd be a flaming jackass if you showed up
+at a con and insisted that your book may not be read aloud, nor photocopied in
+part and marked up for a writers' workshop, nor made the subject of a piece of
+At the office, you might get a sweet deal on a coffee machine on the promise
+that you'll use a certain brand of coffee, and even sign off on a deal to let
+the coffee company check in on this from time to time. But no one does this at
+home. We instinctively and rightly recoil from the idea that our personal,
+private dealings in our homes should be subject to oversight from some company
+from whom we've bought something. We bought it. It's ours. Even when we rent
+things, like cars, we recoil from the idea that Hertz might track our
+movements, or stick a camera in the steering wheel.
+When the Internet and the PC made it possible to sell a lot of purely digital
+"goods" -- software, music, movies and books delivered as pure digits over the
+wire, without a physical good changing hands, the copyright lawyers groped
+about for a way to take account of this. It's in the nature of a computer that
+it copies what you put on it. A computer is said to be working, and of high
+quality, in direct proportion to the degree to which it swiftly and accurately
+copies the information that it is presented with.
+The copyright lawyers had a versatile hammer in their toolbox: the copyright
+license. These licenses had been presented to corporations for years.
+Frustratingly (for the lawyers), these corporate customers had their own
+counsel, and real bargaining power, which made it impossible to impose really
+interesting conditions on them, like limiting the use of a movie such that it
+couldn't be fast-forwarded, or preventing the company from letting more than
+one employee review a journal at a time.
+Regular customers didn't have lawyers or negotiating leverage. They were a
+natural for licensing regimes. Have a look at the next click-through
+"agreement" you're provided with on purchasing a piece of software or an
+electronic book or song. The terms set out in those agreements are positively
+Dickensian in their marvelous idiocy. Sony BMG recently shipped over eight
+million music CDs with an "agreement" that bound its purchasers to destroy
+their music if they left the country or had a house-fire, and to promise not to
+listen to their tunes while at work.
+But customers understand property -- you bought it, you own it -- and they
+don't understand copyright. Practically no one understands copyright. I know
+editors at multibillion-dollar publishing houses who don't know the difference
+between copyright and trademark (if you've ever heard someone say, "You need to
+defend a copyright or you lose it," you've found one of these people who
+confuse copyright and trademark; what's more, this statement isn't particularly
+true of trademark, either). I once got into an argument with a senior Disney TV
+exec who truly believed that if you re-broadcasted an old program, it was
+automatically re-copyrighted and got another 95 years of exclusive use (that's
+So this is where copyright breaks: When copyright lawyers try to treat readers
+and listeners and viewers as if they were (weak and unlucky) corporations who
+could be strong-armed into license agreements you wouldn't wish on a dog.
+There's no conceivable world in which people are going to tiptoe around the
+property they've bought and paid for, re-checking their licenses to make sure
+that they're abiding by the terms of an agreement they doubtless never read.
+Why read something if it's non-negotiable, anyway?
+The answer is simple: treat your readers' property as property. What readers do
+with their own equipment, as private, noncommercial actors, is not a fit
+subject for copyright regulation or oversight. The Securities Exchange
+Commission doesn't impose rules on you when you loan a friend five bucks for
+lunch. Anti-gambling laws aren't triggered when you bet your kids an ice-cream
+cone that you'll bicycle home before them. Copyright shouldn't come between an
+end-user of a creative work and her property.
+Of course, this approach is made even simpler by the fact that practically
+every customer for copyrighted works already operates on this assumption. Which
+is not to say that this might make some business-models more difficult to
+pursue. Obviously, if there was some way to ensure that a given publisher was
+the only source for a copyrighted work, that publisher could hike up its
+prices, devote less money to service, and still sell its wares. Having to
+compete with free copies handed from user to user makes life harder -- hasn't
+it always?
+But it is most assuredly possible. Look at Apple's wildly popular iTunes Music
+Store, which has sold over one billion tracks since 2003. Every song on iTunes
+is available as a free download from user-to-user, peer-to-peer networks like
+Kazaa. Indeed, the P2P monitoring company Big Champagne reports that the
+average time-lapse between a iTunes-exclusive song being offered by Apple and
+that same song being offered on P2P networks is 180 seconds.
+Every iTunes customer could readily acquire every iTunes song for free, using
+the fastest-adopted technology in history. Many of them do (just as many fans
+photocopy their favorite stories from magazines and pass them around to
+friends). But Apple has figured out how to compete well enough by offering a
+better service and a better experience to realize a good business out of this.
+(Apple also imposes ridiculous licensing restrictions, but that's a subject for
+a future column).
+Science fiction is a genre of clear-eyed speculation about the future. It
+should have no place for wishful thinking about a world where readers willingly
+put up with the indignity of being treated as "licensees" instead of customers.
+!_ And now a brief commercial interlude:
+If you're enjoying this book and have been thinking of buying a copy, here's a
+chance to do so:
+1~ In Praise of Fanfic
+(Originally published in Locus Magazine, May 2007) ~#
+I wrote my first story when I was six. It was 1977, and I had just had my mind
+blown clean out of my skull by a new movie called Star Wars (the golden age of
+science fiction is 12; the golden age of cinematic science fiction is six). I
+rushed home and stapled a bunch of paper together, trimmed the sides down so
+that it 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 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 copy of the David on practically
+every corner. For centuries, the way to become a Florentine sculptor has been
+to copy Michelangelo, to learn from the master. Not just the great Florentine
+sculptors, either -- great or terrible, they all start with the master; it can
+be the start of a lifelong passion, or a mere fling. The copy can be art, or it
+can be crap -- the best way to find out which kind you've got inside you is to
+Science fiction has the incredible good fortune to have attracted huge, social
+groups of fan-fiction writers. Many pros got their start with fanfic (and many
+of them still work at it in secret), and many fanfic writers are happy to
+scratch their itch by working only with others' universes, for the sheer joy of
+it. Some fanfic is great -- there's plenty of Buffy fanfic that trumps the
+official, licensed tie-in novels -- and some is purely dreadful.
+Two things are sure about all fanfic, though: first, that people who write and
+read fanfic are already avid readers of writers whose work they're paying
+homage to; and second, that the people who write and read fanfic derive
+fantastic satisfaction from their labors. This is great news for writers.
+Great because fans who are so bought into your fiction that they'll make it
+their own are fans forever, fans who'll evangelize your work to their friends,
+fans who'll seek out your work however you publish it.
+Great because fans who use your work therapeutically, to work out their own
+creative urges, are fans who have a damned good reason to stick with the field,
+to keep on reading even as our numbers dwindle. Even when the fandom revolves
+around movies or TV shows, fanfic is itself a literary pursuit, something
+undertaken in the world of words. The fanfic habit is a literary habit.
+In Japan, comic book fanfic writers publish fanfic manga called dojinshi --
+some of these titles dwarf the circulation of the work they pay tribute to, and
+many of them are sold commercially. Japanese comic publishers know a good thing
+when they see it, and these fanficcers get left alone by the commercial giants
+they attach themselves to.
+And yet for all this, there are many writers who hate fanfic. Some argue that
+fans have no business appropriating their characters and situations, that it's
+disrespectful to imagine your precious fictional people into sexual scenarios,
+or to retell their stories from a different point of view, or to snatch a
+victorious happy ending from the tragic defeat the writer ended her book with.
+Other writers insist that fans who take without asking -- or against the
+writer's wishes -- are part of an "entitlement culture" that has decided that
+it has the moral right to lift scenarios and characters without permission,
+that this is part of our larger postmodern moral crisis that is making the
+world a worse place.
+Some writers dismiss all fanfic as bad art and therefore unworthy of
+appropriation. Some call it copyright infringement or trademark infringement,
+and every now and again, some loony will actually threaten to sue his readers
+for having had the gall to tell his stories to each other.
+I'm frankly flabbergasted by these attitudes. Culture is a lot older than art
+-- that is, we have had social storytelling for a lot longer than we've had a
+notional class of artistes whose creativity is privileged and elevated to the
+numinous, far above the everyday creativity of a kid who knows that she can
+paint and draw, tell a story and sing a song, sculpt and invent a game.
+To call this a moral failing -- and a new moral failing at that! -- is to turn
+your back on millions of years of human history. It's no failing that we
+internalize the stories we love, that we rework them to suit our minds better.
+The Pygmalion story didn't start with Shaw or the Greeks, nor did it end with
+My Fair Lady. Pygmalion is at least thousands of years old -- think of Moses
+passing for the Pharaoh's son! -- and has been reworked in a billion bedtime
+stories, novels, D&D games, movies, fanfic stories, songs, and legends.
+Each person who retold Pygmalion did something both original -- no two tellings
+are just alike -- and derivative, for there are no new ideas under the sun.
+Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. That's why writers don't really get excited
+when they're approached by people with great ideas for novels. We've all got
+more ideas than we can use -- what we lack is the cohesive whole.
+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 make a
+contribution to the aesthetic development of humanity. It's created to satisfy
+the deeply human need to play with the stories that constitute our world.
+There's nothing trivial about telling stories with your friends -- even if the
+stories themselves are trivial. The act of telling stories to one another is
+practically sacred -- and it's unquestionably profound. What's more, lots of
+retellings are art: witness Pat Murphy's wonderful There and Back Again
+(Tolkien) and Geoff Ryman's brilliant World Fantasy Award-winning Was (L. Frank
+The question of respect is, perhaps, a little thornier. The dominant mode of
+criticism in fanfic circles is to compare a work to the canon -- "Would Spock
+ever say that, in 'real' life?" What's more, fanfic writers will sometimes
+apply this test to works that are of the canon, as in "Spock never would have
+said that, and Gene Roddenberry has no business telling me otherwise."
+This is a curious mix of respect and disrespect. Respect because it's hard to
+imagine a more respectful stance than the one that says that your work is the
+yardstick against which all other work is to be measured -- what could be more
+respectful than having your work made into the gold standard? On the other
+hand, this business of telling writers that they've given their characters the
+wrong words and deeds can feel obnoxious or insulting.
+Writers sometimes speak of their characters running away from them, taking on a
+life of their own. They say that these characters -- drawn from real people in
+our lives and mixed up with our own imagination -- are autonomous pieces of
+themselves. It's a short leap from there to mystical nonsense about protecting
+our notional, fictional children from grubby fans who'd set them to screwing
+each other or bowing and scraping before some thinly veiled version of the
+fanfic writer herself.
+There's something to the idea of the autonomous character. Big chunks of our
+wetware are devoted to simulating other people, trying to figure out if we are
+likely to 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 your
+characters in his head, trying to interpret that character's actions through
+his own lens.
+Writers can't ask readers not to interpret their work. You can't enjoy a novel
+that you haven't interpreted -- unless you model the author's characters in
+your head, you can't care about what they do and why they do it. And once
+readers model a character, it's only natural that readers will take pleasure in
+imagining what that character might do offstage, to noodle around with it. This
+isn't disrespect: it's active reading.
+Our field is incredibly privileged to have such an active fanfic writing
+practice. Let's stop treating them like thieves and start treating them like
+honored guests at a table that we laid just for them.
+1~ Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven straw-men of the meta-utopia
+(Self-published, 26 August 2001) ~#
+0. ToC:
+ * 0. ToC
+ o 0.1 Version History
+ * 1. Introduction
+ * 2. The problems
+ o 2.1 People lie
+ o 2.2 People are lazy
+ o 2.3 People are stupid
+ o 2.4 Mission: Impossible -- know thyself
+ o 2.5 Schemas aren't neutral
+ o 2.6 Metrics influence results
+ o 2.7 There's more than one way to describe something
+ * 3. Reliable metadata
+2~x- 1. Introduction
+Metadata is "data about data" -- information like keywords, page-length, title,
+word-count, abstract, location, SKU, ISBN, and so on. Explicit, human-generated
+metadata has enjoyed recent trendiness, especially in the world of XML. A
+typical scenario goes like this: a number of suppliers get together and agree
+on a metadata standard -- a Document Type Definition or scheme -- for a given
+subject area, say washing machines. They agree to a common vocabulary for
+describing washing machines: size, capacity, energy consumption, water
+consumption, price. They create machine-readable databases of their inventory,
+which are available in whole or part to search agents and other databases, so
+that a consumer can enter the parameters of the washing machine he's seeking
+and query multiple sites simultaneously for an exhaustive list of the available
+washing machines that meet his criteria.
+If everyone would subscribe to such a system and create good metadata for the
+purposes of describing their goods, services and information, it would be a
+trivial matter to search the Internet for highly qualified, context-sensitive
+results: a fan could find all the downloadable music in a given genre, a
+manufacturer could efficiently discover suppliers, travelers could easily
+choose a hotel room for an upcoming trip.
+A world of exhaustive, reliable metadata would be a utopia. It's also a
+pipe-dream, founded on self-delusion, nerd hubris and hysterically inflated
+market opportunities.
+2~x- 2. The problems
+There are at least seven insurmountable obstacles between the world as we know
+it and meta-utopia. I'll enumerate them below:.
+3~x- 2.1 People lie
+Metadata exists in a competitive world. Suppliers compete to sell their goods,
+cranks compete to convey their crackpot theories (mea culpa), artists compete
+for audience. Attention-spans and wallets may not be zero-sum, but they're
+damned close.
+That's why:
+_* A search for any commonly referenced term at a search-engine like Altavista
+will often turn up at least one porn link in the first ten results.
+_* Your mailbox is full of spam with subject lines like "Re: The information
+you requested."
+_* Publisher's Clearing House sends out advertisements that holler "You may
+already be a winner!"
+_* Press-releases have gargantuan lists of empty buzzwords attached to them.
+Meta-utopia is a world of reliable metadata. When poisoning the well confers
+benefits to the poisoners, the meta-waters get awfully toxic in short order.
+3~x- 2.2 People are lazy
+You and me are engaged in the incredibly serious business of creating
+information. Here in the Info-Ivory-Tower, we understand the importance of
+creating and maintaining excellent metadata for our information.
+But info-civilians are remarkably cavalier about their information. Your
+clueless aunt sends you email with no subject line, half the pages on Geocities
+are called "Please title this page" and your boss stores all of his files on
+his desktop with helpful titles like "UNTITLED.DOC."
+This laziness is bottomless. No amount of ease-of-use will end it. To
+understand the true depths of meta-laziness, download ten random MP3 files from
+Napster. Chances are, at least one will have no title, artist or track
+information -- this despite the fact that adding in this info merely requires
+clicking the "Fetch Track Info from CDDB" button on every MP3-ripping
+Short of breaking fingers or sending out squads of vengeful info-ninjas to add
+metadata to the average user's files, we're never gonna get there.
+3~x- 2.3 People are stupid
+Even when there's a positive benefit to creating good metadata, people
+steadfastly refuse to exercise care and diligence in their metadata creation.
+Take eBay: every seller there has a damned good reason for double-checking
+their listings for typos and misspellings. Try searching for "plam" on eBay.
+Right now, that turns up nine typoed listings for "Plam Pilots." Misspelled
+listings don't show up in correctly-spelled searches and hence garner fewer
+bids and lower sale-prices. You can almost always get a bargain on a Plam Pilot
+at eBay.
+The fine (and gross) points of literacy -- spelling, punctuation, grammar --
+elude the vast majority of the Internet's users. To believe that J. Random
+Users will suddenly and en masse learn to spell and punctuate -- let alone
+accurately categorize their information according to whatever hierarchy they're
+supposed to be using -- is self-delusion of the first water.
+3~x- 2.4 Mission: Impossible -- know thyself
+In meta-utopia, everyone engaged in the heady business of describing stuff
+carefully weighs the stuff in the balance and accurately divines the stuff's
+properties, noting those results.
+Simple observation demonstrates the fallacy of this assumption. When Nielsen
+used log-books to gather information on the viewing habits of their sample
+families, the results were heavily skewed to Masterpiece Theater and Sesame
+Street. Replacing the journals with set-top boxes that reported what the set
+was actually tuned to showed what the average American family was really
+watching: naked midget wrestling, America's Funniest Botched Cosmetic Surgeries
+and Jerry Springer presents: "My daughter dresses like a slut!"
+Ask a programmer how long it'll take to write a given module, or a contractor
+how long it'll take to fix your roof. Ask a laconic Southerner how far it is to
+the creek. Better yet, throw darts -- the answer's likely to be just as
+People are lousy observers of their own behaviors. Entire religions are formed
+with the goal of helping people understand themselves better; therapists rake
+in billions working for this very end.
+Why should we believe that using metadata will help J. Random User get in touch
+with her Buddha nature?
+3~x- 2.5 Schemas aren't neutral
+In meta-utopia, the lab-coated guardians of epistemology sit down and
+rationally map out a hierarchy of ideas, something like this:
+ Black holes
+ Matter:
+ Earth:
+ Planets
+ Washing Machines
+ Wind:
+ Oxygen
+ Poo-gas
+ Fire:
+ Nuclear fission
+ Nuclear fusion
+ "Mean Devil Woman" Louisiana Hot-Sauce
+In a given sub-domain, say, Washing Machines, experts agree on sub-hierarchies,
+with classes for reliability, energy consumption, color, size, etc.
+This presumes that there is a "correct" way of categorizing ideas, and that
+reasonable people, given enough time and incentive, can agree on the proper
+means for building a hierarchy.
+Nothing could be farther from the truth. Any hierarchy of ideas necessarily
+implies the importance of some axes over others. A manufacturer of small,
+environmentally conscious washing machines would draw a hierarchy that looks
+like this:
+Energy consumption:
+ Water consumption:
+ Size:
+ Capacity:
+ Reliability
+While a manufacturer of glitzy, feature-laden washing machines would want
+something like this:
+ Size:
+ Programmability:
+ Reliability
+The conceit that competing interests can come to easy accord on a common
+vocabulary totally ignores the power of organizing principles in a marketplace.
+3~x- 2.6 Metrics influence results
+Agreeing to a common yardstick for measuring the important stuff in any domain
+necessarily privileges the items that score high on that metric, regardless of
+those items' overall suitability. IQ tests privilege people who are good at IQ
+tests, Nielsen Ratings privilege 30- and 60-minute TV shows (which is why MTV
+doesn't show videos any more -- Nielsen couldn't generate ratings for
+three-minute mini-programs, and so MTV couldn't demonstrate the value of
+advertising on its network), raw megahertz scores privilege Intel's CISC chips
+over Motorola's RISC chips.
+Ranking axes are mutually exclusive: software that scores high for security
+scores low for convenience, desserts that score high for decadence score low
+for healthiness. Every player in a metadata standards body wants to emphasize
+their high-scoring axes and de-emphasize (or, if possible, ignore altogether)
+their low-scoring axes.
+It's wishful thinking to believe that a group of people competing to advance
+their agendas will be universally pleased with any hierarchy of knowledge. The
+best that we can hope for is a detente in which everyone is equally miserable.
+3~x- 2.7 There's more than one way to describe something
+"No, I'm not watching cartoons! It's cultural anthropology."
+"This isn't smut, it's art."
+"It's not a bald spot, it's a solar panel for a sex-machine."
+Reasonable people can disagree forever on how to describe something. Arguably,
+your Self is the collection of associations and descriptors you ascribe to
+ideas. Requiring everyone to use the same vocabulary to describe their material
+denudes the cognitive landscape, enforces homogeneity in ideas.
+And that's just not right.
+2~x- 3. Reliable metadata
+Do we throw out metadata, then?
+Of course not. Metadata can be quite useful, if taken with a sufficiently large
+pinch of salt. The meta-utopia will never come into being, but metadata is
+often a good means of making rough assumptions about the information that
+floats through the Internet.
+Certain kinds of implicit metadata is awfully useful, in fact. Google exploits
+metadata about the structure of the World Wide Web: by examining the number of
+links pointing at a page (and the number of links pointing at each linker),
+Google can derive statistics about the number of Web-authors who believe that
+that page is important enough to link to, and hence make extremely reliable
+guesses about how reputable the information on that page is.
+This sort of observational metadata is far more reliable than the stuff that
+human beings create for the purposes of having their documents found. It cuts
+through the marketing bullshit, the self-delusion, and the vocabulary
+Taken more broadly, this kind of metadata can be thought of as a pedigree: who
+thinks that this document is valuable? How closely correlated have this
+person's value judgments been with mine in times gone by? This kind of implicit
+endorsement of information is a far better candidate for an
+information-retrieval panacea than all the world's schema combined.
+1~ Amish for QWERTY
+(Originally published on the O'Reilly Network, 07/09/2003) ~#
+I learned to type before I learned to write. The QWERTY keyboard layout is
+hard-wired to my brain, such that I can't write anything of significance
+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 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 network to work, must feel. Like a
+creaking dino. Like history was passing me by. I'm 31, and I'm obsolete. Or at
+least Amish.
+People think the Amish are technophobes. Far from it. They're ideologues. They
+have a concept of what right-living consists of, and they'll use any technology
+that serves that ideal -- and mercilessly eschew any technology that would
+subvert it. There's nothing wrong with driving the wagon to the next farm when
+you want to hear from your son, so there's no need to put a phone in the
+kitchen. On the other hand, there's nothing right about your livestock dying
+for lack of care, so a cellphone that can call the veterinarian can certainly
+find a home in the horse barn.
+For me, right-living is the 101-key, QWERTY, computer-centric mediated
+lifestyle. It's having a bulky laptop in my bag, crouching by the toilets at a
+strange airport with my AC adapter plugged into the always-awkwardly-placed
+power source, running software that I chose and installed, communicating over
+the wireless network. I use a network that has no incremental cost for
+communication, and a device that lets me install any software without
+permission from anyone else. Right-living is the highly mutated,
+commodity-hardware- based, public and free Internet. I'm QWERTY-Amish, in other
+I'm the kind of perennial early adopter who would gladly volunteer to beta test
+a neural interface, but I find myself in a moral panic when confronted with the
+12-button keypad on a cellie, even though that interface is one that has been
+greedily adopted by billions of people worldwide, from strap-hanging Japanese
+schoolgirls to Kenyan electoral scrutineers to Filipino guerrillas in the bush.
+The idea of paying for every message makes my hackles tumesce and evokes a
+reflexive moral conviction that text-messaging is inherently undemocratic, at
+least compared to free-as-air email. The idea of only running the software that
+big-brother telco has permitted me on my handset makes me want to run for the
+The thumb-generation who can tap out a text-message under their desks while
+taking notes with the other hand -- they're in for 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.
+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 abandon or be left
+behind. Choose your interface -- and the values it implies -- carefully, then,
+before you wed your thought processes to your fingers' dance. It may be the one
+you're stuck with.
+1~ Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books
+(Paper for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference, San Diego, February
+12, 2004) ~#
+This talk was initially given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference [
+http://conferences.oreillynet.com/et2004/ ], along with a set of slides that,
+for copyright reasons (ironic!) can't be released alongside of this file.
+However, you will find, interspersed in this text, notations describing the
+places where new slides should be loaded, in [square-brackets].
+For starters, let me try to summarize the lessons and intuitions I've had about
+ebooks from my release of two novels and most of a short story collection
+online under a Creative Commons license. A parodist who published a list of
+alternate titles for the presentations at this event called this talk, "eBooks
+Suck Right Now," [eBooks suck right now] and as funny as that is, I don't think
+it's true.
+No, if I had to come up with another title for this talk, I'd call it: "Ebooks:
+You're Soaking in Them." [Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them] That's because I
+think that the shape of ebooks to come is almost visible in the way that people
+interact with text today, and that the job of authors who want to become rich
+and famous is to come to a better understanding of that shape.
+I haven't come to a perfect understanding. I don't know what the future of the
+book looks like. But I have ideas, and I'll share them with you:
+1. Ebooks aren't marketing. [Ebooks aren't marketing] OK, so ebooks *{are}*
+marketing: that is to say that giving away ebooks sells more books. Baen Books,
+who do a lot of series publishing, have found that giving away electronic
+editions of the previous installments in their series to coincide with the
+release of a new volume sells the hell out of the new book -- and the backlist.
+And the number of people who wrote to me to tell me about how much they dug the
+ebook and so bought the paper-book far exceeds the number of people who wrote
+to me and said, "Ha, ha, you hippie, I read your book for free and now I'm not
+gonna buy it." But ebooks *{shouldn't}* be just about marketing: ebooks are a
+goal unto themselves. In the final analysis, more people will read more words
+off more screens and fewer words off fewer pages and when those two lines
+cross, ebooks are gonna have to be the way that writers earn their keep, not
+the way that they promote the dead-tree editions.
+2. Ebooks complement paper books. [Ebooks complement paper books]. Having an
+ebook is good. Having a paper book is good. Having both is even better. One
+reader wrote to me and said that he read half my first novel from the bound
+book, and printed the other half on scrap-paper to read at the beach. Students
+write to me to say that it's easier to do their term papers if they can copy
+and paste their quotations into their word-processors. Baen readers use the
+electronic editions of their favorite series to build concordances of
+characters, places and events.
+3. Unless you own the ebook, you don't 0wn the book [Unless you own the ebook,
+you don't 0wn the book]. I take the view that the book is a "practice" -- a
+collection of social and economic and artistic activities -- and not an
+"object." Viewing the book as a "practice" instead of an object is a pretty
+radical notion, and it begs the question: just what the hell is a book? Good
+question. I write all of my books in a text-editor [TEXT EDITOR SCREENGRAB]
+(BBEdit, from Barebones Software -- as fine a text-editor as I could hope for).
+From there, I can convert them into a formatted two-column PDF [TWO-UP
+SCREENGRAB]. I can turn them into an HTML file [BROWSER SCREENGRAB]. I can turn
+them over to my publisher, who can turn them into galleys, advanced review
+copies, hardcovers and paperbacks. I can turn them over to my readers, who can
+convert them to a bewildering array of formats [DOWNLOAD PAGE SCREENGRAB].
+Brewster Kahle's Internet Bookmobile can convert a digital book into a
+four-color, full-bleed, perfect-bound, laminated-cover, printed-spine paper
+book in ten minutes, for about a dollar. Try converting a paper book to a PDF
+or an html file or a text file or a RocketBook or a printout for a buck in ten
+minutes! It's ironic, because one of the frequently cited reasons for
+preferring paper to ebooks is that paper books confer a sense of ownership of a
+physical object. Before the dust settles on this ebook thing, owning a paper
+book is going to feel less like ownership than having an open digital edition
+of the text.
+4. Ebooks are a better deal for writers. [Ebooks are a better deal for writers]
+The compensation for writers is pretty thin on the ground. *{Amazing Stories}*,
+Hugo Gernsback's original science fiction magazine, paid a couple cents a word.
+Today, science fiction magazines pay...a couple cents a word. The sums involved
+are so minuscule, they're not even insulting: they're *{quaint}* and
+*{historical}*, like the WHISKEY 5 CENTS sign over the bar at a pioneer
+village. Some writers do make it big, but they're *{rounding errors}* as
+compared to the total population of sf writers earning some of their living at
+the trade. Almost all of us could be making more money elsewhere (though we may
+dream of earning a stephenkingload of money, and of course, no one would play
+the lotto if there were no winners). The primary incentive for writing has to
+be artistic satisfaction, egoboo, and a desire for posterity. Ebooks get you
+that. Ebooks become a part of the corpus of human knowledge because they get
+indexed by search engines and replicated by the hundreds, thousands or
+millions. They can be googled.
+Even better: they level the playing field between writers and trolls. When
+Amazon kicked off, many writers got their knickers in a tight and powerful knot
+at the idea that axe-grinding yahoos were filling the Amazon message-boards
+with ill-considered slams at their work -- for, if a personal recommendation is
+the best way to sell a book, then certainly a personal condemnation is the best
+way to *{not}* sell a book. Today, the trolls are still with us, but now, the
+readers get to decide for themselves. Here's a bit of a review of Down and Out
+in the Magic Kingdom that was recently posted to Amazon by "A reader from
+Redwood City, CA":
+> I am really not sure what kind of drugs critics are > smoking, or what kind
+of payola may be involved. But > regardless of what Entertainment Weekly says,
+whatever > this newspaper or that magazine says, you shouldn't > waste your
+money. Download it for free from Corey's > (sic) site, read the first page, and
+look away in > disgust -- this book is for people who think Dan > Brown's Da
+Vinci Code is great writing.
+Back in the old days, this kind of thing would have really pissed me off.
+Axe-grinding, mouth-breathing yahoos, defaming my good name! My stars and
+mittens! But take a closer look at that damning passage:
+> Download it for free from Corey's site, read the first > page
+You see that? Hell, this guy is *{working for me}*! [ADDITIONAL PULL QUOTES]
+Someone accuses a writer I'm thinking of reading of paying off Entertainment
+Weekly to say nice things about his novel, "a surprisingly bad writer," no
+less, whose writing is "stiff, amateurish, and uninspired!" I wanna check that
+writer out. And I can. In one click. And then I can make up my own mind.
+You don't get far in the arts without healthy doses of both ego and insecurity,
+and the downside of being able to google up all the things that people are
+saying about your book is that it can play right into your insecurities -- "all
+these people will have it in their minds not to bother with my book because
+they've read the negative interweb reviews!" But the flipside of that is the
+ego: "If only they'd give it a shot, they'd see how good it is." And the more
+scathing the review is, the more likely they are to give it a shot. Any press
+is good press, so long as they spell your URL right (and even if they spell
+your name wrong!).
+5. Ebooks need to embrace their nature. [Ebooks need to embrace their nature.]
+The distinctive value of ebooks is orthogonal to the value of paper books, and
+it revolves around the mix-ability and send-ability of electronic text. The
+more you constrain an ebook's distinctive value propositions -- that is, the
+more you restrict a reader's ability to copy, transport or transform an ebook
+-- the more it has to be valued on the same axes as a paper-book. Ebooks
+*{fail}* on those axes. Ebooks don't beat paper-books for sophisticated
+typography, they can't match them for quality of paper or the smell of the
+glue. But just try sending a paper book to a friend in Brazil, for free, in
+less than a second. Or loading a thousand paper books into a little stick of
+flash-memory dangling from your keychain. Or searching a paper book for every
+instance of a character's name to find a beloved passage. Hell, try clipping a
+pithy passage out of a paper book and pasting it into your sig-file.
+6. Ebooks demand a different attention span (but not a shorter one). [Ebooks
+demand a different attention span (but not a shorter one).] Artists are always
+disappointed by their audience's attention-spans. Go back far enough and you'll
+find cuneiform etchings bemoaning the current Sumerian go-go lifestyle with its
+insistence on myths with plotlines and characters and action, not like we had
+in the old days. As artists, it would be a hell of a lot easier if our
+audiences were more tolerant of our penchant for boring them. We'd get to
+explore a lot more ideas without worrying about tarting them up with
+easy-to-swallow chocolate coatings of entertainment. We like to think of
+shortened attention spans as a product of the information age, but check this
+[Nietzsche quote]
+> To be sure one thing necessary above all: if one is to > practice reading as
+an *art* in this way, something > needs to be un-learned most thoroughly in
+these days.
+In other words, if my book is too boring, it's because you're not paying enough
+attention. Writers say this stuff all the time, but this quote isn't from this
+century or the last. [Nietzsche quote with attribution] It's from the preface
+to Nietzsche's "Genealogy of Morals," published in *{1887}*.
+Yeah, our attention-spans are *{different}* today, but they aren't necessarily
+*{shorter}*. Warren Ellis's fans managed to hold the storyline for
+Transmetropolitan [Transmet cover] in their minds for *{five years}* while the
+story trickled out in monthly funnybook installments. JK Rowlings's
+installments on the Harry Potter series get fatter and fatter with each new
+volume. Entire forests are sacrificed to long-running series fiction like
+Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books, each of which is approximately 20,000
+pages long (I may be off by an order of magnitude one way or another here).
+Sure, presidential debates are conducted in soundbites today and not the
+days-long oratory extravaganzas of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but people
+manage to pay attention to the 24-month-long presidential campaigns from start
+to finish.
+7. We need *{all}* the ebooks. [We need *{all}* the ebooks] The vast majority
+of the words ever penned are lost to posterity. No one library collects all the
+still-extant books ever written and no one person could hope to make a dent in
+that corpus of written work. None of us will ever read more than the tiniest
+sliver of human literature. But that doesn't mean that we can stick with just
+the most popular texts and get a proper ebook revolution.
+For starters, we're all edge-cases. Sure, we all have the shared desire for the
+core canon of literature, but each of us want to complete that collection with
+different texts that are as distinctive and individualistic as fingerprints. If
+we all look like we're doing the same thing when we read, or listen to music,
+or hang out in a chatroom, that's because we're not looking closely enough. The
+shared-ness of our experience is only present at a coarse level of measurement:
+once you get into really granular observation, there are as many differences in
+our "shared" experience as there are similarities.
+More than that, though, is the way that a large collection of electronic text
+differs from a small one: it's the difference between a single book, a shelf
+full of books and a library of books. Scale makes things different. Take the
+Web: none of us can hope to read even a fraction of all the pages on the Web,
+but by analyzing the link structures that bind all those pages together, Google
+is able to actually tease out machine-generated conclusions about the relative
+relevance of different pages to different queries. None of us will ever eat the
+whole corpus, but Google can digest it for us and excrete the steaming nuggets
+of goodness that make it the search-engine miracle it is today.
+8. Ebooks are like paper books. [Ebooks are like paper books]. To round out
+this talk, I'd like to go over the ways that ebooks are more like paper books
+than you'd expect. One of the truisms of retail theory is that purchasers need
+to come into contact with a good several times before they buy -- seven
+contacts is tossed around as the magic number. That means that my readers have
+to hear the title, see the cover, pick up the book, read a review, and so
+forth, seven times, on average, before they're ready to buy.
+There's a temptation to view downloading a book as comparable to bringing it
+home from the store, but that's the wrong metaphor. Some of the time, maybe
+most of the time, downloading the text of the book is like taking it off the
+shelf at the store and looking at the cover and reading the blurbs (with the
+advantage of not having to come into contact with the residual DNA and burger
+king left behind by everyone else who browsed the book before you). Some
+writers are horrified at the idea that three hundred thousand copies of my
+first novel were downloaded and "only" ten thousand or so were sold so far. If
+it were the case that for ever copy sold, thirty were taken home from the
+store, that would be a horrifying outcome, for sure. But look at it another
+way: if one out of every thirty people who glanced at the cover of my book
+bought it, I'd be a happy author. And I am. Those downloads cost me no more
+than glances at the cover in a bookstore, and the sales are healthy.
+We also like to think of physical books as being inherently *{countable}* in a
+way that digital books aren't (an irony, since computers are damned good at
+counting things!). This is important, because writers get paid on the basis of
+the number of copies of their books that sell, so having a good count makes a
+difference. And indeed, my royalty statements contain precise numbers for
+copies printed, shipped, returned and sold.
+But that's a false precision. When the printer does a run of a book, it always
+runs a few extra at the start and finish of the run to make sure that the setup
+is right and to account for the occasional rip, drop, or spill. The actual
+total number of books printed is approximately the number of books ordered, but
+never exactly -- if you've ever ordered 500 wedding invitations, chances are
+you received 500-and-a-few back from the printer and that's why.
+And the numbers just get fuzzier from there. Copies are stolen. Copies are
+dropped. Shipping people get the count wrong. Some copies end up in the wrong
+box and go to a bookstore that didn't order them and isn't invoiced for them
+and end up on a sale table or in the trash. Some copies are returned as
+damaged. Some are returned as unsold. Some come back to the store the next
+morning accompanied by a whack of buyer's remorse. Some go to the place where
+the spare sock in the dryer ends up.
+The numbers on a royalty statement are actuarial, not actual. They represent a
+kind of best-guess approximation of the copies shipped, sold, returned and so
+forth. Actuarial accounting works pretty well: well enough to run the
+juggernaut banking, insurance, and gambling industries on. It's good enough for
+divvying up the royalties paid by musical rights societies for radio airplay
+and live performance. And it's good enough for counting how many copies of a
+book are distributed online or off.
+Counts of paper books are differently precise from counts of electronic books,
+sure: but neither one is inherently countable.
+And finally, of course, there's the matter of selling books. However an author
+earns her living from her words, printed or encoded, she has as her first and
+hardest task to find her audience. There are more competitors for our attention
+than we can possibly reconcile, prioritize or make sense of. Getting a book
+under the right person's nose, with the right pitch, is the hardest and most
+important task any writer faces.
+I care about books, a lot. I started working in libraries and bookstores at the
+age of 12 and kept at it for a decade, until I was lured away by the siren song
+of the tech world. I knew I wanted to be a writer at the age of 12, and now, 20
+years later, I have three novels, a short story collection and a nonfiction
+book out, two more novels under contract, and another book in the works. [BOOK
+COVERS] I've won a major award in my genre, science fiction, [CAMPBELL AWARD]
+and I'm nominated for another one, the 2003 Nebula Award for best novelette.
+I own a *{lot}* of books. Easily more than 10,000 of them, in storage on both
+coasts of the North American continent [LIBRARY LADDER]. I have to own them,
+since they're the tools of my trade: the reference works I refer to as a
+novelist and writer today. Most of the literature I dig is very short-lived, it
+disappears from the shelf after just a few months, usually for good. Science
+fiction is inherently ephemeral. [ACE DOUBLES]
+Now, as much as I love books, I love computers, too. Computers are
+fundamentally different from modern books in the same way that printed books
+are different from monastic Bibles: they are malleable. Time was, a "book" was
+something produced by many months' labor by a scribe, usually a monk, on some
+kind of durable and sexy substrate like foetal lambskin. [ILLUMINATED BIBLE]
+Gutenberg's xerox machine changed all that, changed a book into something that
+could be simply run off a press in a few minutes' time, on substrate more
+suitable to ass-wiping than exaltation in a place of honor in the cathedral.
+The Gutenberg press meant that rather than owning one or two books, a member of
+the ruling class could amass a library, and that rather than picking only a few
+subjects from enshrinement in print, a huge variety of subjects could be
+addressed on paper and handed from person to person. [KAPITAL/TIJUANA BIBLE]
+Most new ideas start with a precious few certainties and a lot of speculation.
+I've been doing a bunch of digging for certainties and a lot of speculating
+lately, and the purpose of this talk is to lay out both categories of ideas.
+This all starts with my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [COVER],
+which came out on January 9, 2003. At that time, there was a lot of talk in my
+professional circles about, on the one hand, the dismal failure of ebooks, and,
+on the other, the new and scary practice of ebook "piracy."
+[alt.binaries.e-books screengrab] It was strikingly weird that no one seemed to
+notice that the idea of ebooks as a "failure" was at strong odds with the
+notion that electronic book "piracy" was worth worrying about: I mean, if
+ebooks are a failure, then who gives a rats if intarweb dweebs are trading them
+on Usenet?
+A brief digression here, on the double meaning of "ebooks." One meaning for
+that word is "legitimate" ebook ventures, that is to say,
+rightsholder-authorized editions of the texts of books, released in a
+proprietary, use-restricted format, sometimes for use on a general-purpose PC
+and sometimes for use on a special-purpose hardware device like the nuvoMedia
+Rocketbook [ROCKETBOOK]. The other meaning for ebook is a "pirate" or
+unauthorized electronic edition of a book, usually made by cutting the binding
+off of a book and scanning it a page at a time, then running the resulting
+bitmaps through an optical character recognition app to convert them into ASCII
+text, to be cleaned up by hand. These books are pretty buggy, full of errors
+introduced by the OCR. A lot of my colleagues worry that these books also have
+deliberate errors, created by mischievous book-rippers who cut, add or change
+text in order to "improve" the work. Frankly, I have never seen any evidence
+that any book-ripper is interested in doing this, and until I do, I think that
+this is the last thing anyone should be worrying about.
+Back to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [COVER]. Well, not yet. I want to
+convey to you the depth of the panic in my field over ebook piracy, or
+"bookwarez" as it is known in book-ripper circles. Writers were joining the
+discussion on alt.binaries.ebooks using assumed names, claiming fear of
+retaliation from scary hax0r kids who would presumably screw up their
+credit-ratings in retaliation for being called thieves. My editor, a blogger,
+hacker and guy-in-charge-of-the-largest-sf-line-in-the-world named Patrick
+Nielsen Hayden posted to one of the threads in the newsgroup, saying, in part
+> Pirating copyrighted etext on Usenet and elsewhere is going to > happen more
+and more, for the same reasons that everyday folks > make audio cassettes from
+vinyl LPs and audio CDs, and > videocassette copies of store-bought videotapes.
+Partly it's > greed; partly it's annoyance over retail prices; partly it's the
+> desire to Share Cool Stuff (a motivation usually underrated by > the victims
+of this kind of small-time hand-level piracy). > Instantly going to Defcon One
+over it and claiming it's morally > tantamount to mugging little old ladies in
+the street will make > it kind of difficult to move forward from that position
+when it > doesn't work. In the 1970s, the record industry shrieked that > "home
+taping is killing music." It's hard for ordinary folks to > avoid noticing that
+music didn't die. But the record industry's > credibility on the subject wasn't
+exactly enhanced.
+Patrick and I have a long relationship, starting when I was 18 years old and he
+kicked in toward a scholarship fund to send me to a writers' workshop,
+continuing to a fateful lunch in New York in the mid-Nineties when I showed him
+a bunch of Project Gutenberg texts on my Palm Pilot and inspired him to start
+licensing Tor's titles for PDAs [PEANUTPRESS SCREENGRAB], to the
+turn-of-the-millennium when he bought and then published my first novel (he's
+bought three more since -- I really like Patrick!).
+Right as bookwarez newsgroups were taking off, I was shocked silly by legal
+action by one of my colleagues against AOL/Time-Warner for carrying the
+alt.binaries.ebooks newsgroup. This writer alleged that AOL should have a duty
+to remove this newsgroup, since it carried so many infringing files, and that
+its failure to do so made it a contributory infringer, and so liable for the
+incredibly stiff penalties afforded by our newly minted copyright laws like the
+No Electronic Theft Act and the loathsome Digital Millennium Copyright Act or
+Now there was a scary thought: there were people out there who thought the
+world would be a better place if ISPs were given the duty of actively policing
+and censoring the websites and newsfeeds their customers had access to,
+including a requirement that ISPs needed to determine, all on their own, what
+was an unlawful copyright infringement -- something more usually left up to
+judges in the light of extensive amicus briefings from esteemed copyright
+This was a stupendously dumb idea, and it offended me down to my boots. Writers
+are supposed to be advocates of free expression, not censorship. It seemed that
+some of my colleagues loved the First Amendment, but they were reluctant to
+share it with the rest of the world.
+Well, dammit, I had a book coming out, and it seemed to be an opportunity to
+try to figure out a little more about this ebook stuff. On the one hand, ebooks
+were a dismal failure. On the other hand, there were more books posted to
+alt.binaries.ebooks every day.
+This leads me into the two certainties I have about ebooks:
+1. More people are reading more words off more screens every day [GRAPHIC]
+2. Fewer people are reading fewer words off fewer pages every day [GRAPHIC]
+These two certainties begged a lot of questions.
+_* Screen resolutions are too low to effectively replace paper
+_* People want to own physical books because of their visceral appeal (often
+this is accompanied by a little sermonette on how good books smell, or how good
+they look on a bookshelf, or how evocative an old curry stain in the margin can
+_* You can't take your ebook into the tub
+_* You can't read an ebook without power and a computer
+_* File-formats go obsolete, paper has lasted for a long time
+None of these seemed like very good explanations for the "failure" of ebooks to
+me. If screen resolutions are too low to replace paper, then how come everyone
+I know spends more time reading off a screen every year, up to and including my
+sainted grandmother (geeks have a really crappy tendency to argue that certain
+technologies aren't ready for primetime because their grandmothers won't use
+them -- well, my grandmother sends me email all the time. She types 70 words
+per minute, and loves to show off grandsonular email to her pals around the
+pool at her Florida retirement condo)?
+The other arguments were a lot more interesting, though. It seemed to me that
+electronic books are *{different}* from paper books, and have different virtues
+and failings. Let's think a little about what the book has gone through in
+years gone by. This is interesting because the history of the book is the
+history of the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Pilgrims, and, ultimately
+the colonizing of the Americas and the American Revolution.
+Broadly speaking, there was a time when books were hand-printed on rare leather
+by monks. The only people who could read them were priests, who got a regular
+eyeful of the really cool cartoons the monks drew in the margins. The priests
+read the books aloud, in Latin [LATIN BIBLE] (to a predominantly
+non-Latin-speaking audience) in cathedrals, wreathed in pricey incense that
+rose from censers swung by altar boys.
+Then Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Martin Luther turned that
+press into a revolution. [LUTHER BIBLE] He printed Bibles in languages that
+non-priests could read, and distributed them to normal people who got to read
+the word of God all on their own. The rest, as they say, is history.
+Here are some interesting things to note about the advent of the printing
+_* Luther Bibles lacked the manufacturing quality of the illuminated Bibles.
+They were comparatively cheap and lacked the typographical expressiveness that
+a really talented monk could bring to bear when writing out the word of God
+_* Luther Bibles were utterly unsuited to the traditional use-case for Bibles.
+A good Bible was supposed to reinforce the authority of the man at the pulpit.
+It needed heft, it needed impressiveness, and most of all, it needed rarity.
+_* The user-experience of Luther Bibles sucked. There was no incense, no altar
+boys, and who (apart from the priesthood) knew that reading was so friggin'
+hard on the eyes?
+_* Luther Bibles were a lot less trustworthy than the illuminated numbers.
+Anyone with a press could run one off, subbing in any apocryphal text he wanted
+-- and who knew how accurate that translation was? Monks had an entire Papacy
+behind them, running a quality-assurance operation that had stood Europe in
+good stead for centuries.
+In the late nineties, I went to conferences where music execs patiently
+explained that Napster was doomed, because you didn't get any cover-art or
+liner-notes with it, you couldn't know if the rip was any good, and sometimes
+the connection would drop mid-download. I'm sure that many Cardinals espoused
+the points raised above with equal certainty.
+What the record execs and the cardinals missed was all the ways that Luther
+Bibles kicked ass:
+_* They were cheap and fast. Loads of people could acquire them without having
+to subject themselves to the authority and approval of the Church
+_* They were in languages that non-priests could read. You no longer had to
+take the Church's word for it when its priests explained what God really meant
+_* They birthed a printing-press ecosystem in which lots of books flourished.
+New kinds of fiction, poetry, politics, scholarship and so on were all enabled
+by the printing presses whose initial popularity was spurred by Luther's ideas
+about religion.
+Note that all of these virtues are orthogonal to the virtues of a monkish
+Bible. That is, none of the things that made the Gutenberg press a success were
+the things that made monk-Bibles a success.
+By the same token, the reasons to love ebooks have precious little to do with
+the reasons to love paper books.
+_* They are easy to share. Secrets of Ya-Ya Sisterhood went from a midlist
+title to a bestseller by being passed from hand to hand by women in reading
+circles. Slashdorks and other netizens have social life as rich as
+reading-circlites, but they don't ever get to see each other face to face; the
+only kind of book they can pass from hand to hand is an ebook. What's more, the
+single factor most correlated with a purchase is a recommendation from a friend
+-- getting a book recommended by a pal is more likely to sell you on it than
+having read and enjoyed the preceding volume in a series!
+_* They are easy to slice and dice. This is where the Mac evangelist in me
+comes out -- minority platforms matter. It's a truism of the Napsterverse that
+most of the files downloaded are bog-standard top-40 tracks, like 90 percent or
+so, and I believe it. We all want to popular music. That's why it's popular.
+But the interesting thing is the other ten percent. Bill Gates told the New
+York Times that Microsoft lost the search wars by doing "a good job on the 80
+percent of common queries and ignor[ing] the other stuff. But it's the
+remaining 20 percent that counts, because that's where the quality perception
+is." Why did Napster captivate so many of us? Not because it could get us the
+top-40 tracks that we could hear just by snapping on the radio: it was because
+80 percent of the music ever recorded wasn't available for sale anywhere in the
+world, and in that 80 percent were all the songs that had ever touched us, all
+the earworms that had been lodged in our hindbrains, all the stuff that made us
+smile when we heard it. Those songs are different for all of us, but they share
+the trait of making the difference between a compelling service and, well,
+top-40 Clearchannel radio programming. It was the minority of tracks that
+appealed to the majority of us. By the same token, the malleability of
+electronic text means that it can be readily repurposed: you can throw it on a
+webserver or convert it to a format for your favorite PDA; you can ask your
+computer to read it aloud or you can search the text for a quotation to cite in
+a book report or to use in your sig. In other words, most people who download
+the book do so for the predictable reason, and in a predictable format -- say,
+to sample a chapter in the HTML format before deciding whether to buy the book
+-- but the thing that differentiates a boring e-text experience from an
+exciting one is the minority use -- printing out a couple chapters of the book
+to bring to the beach rather than risk getting the hardcopy wet and salty.
+Tool-makers and software designers are increasingly aware of the notion of
+"affordances" in design. You can bash a nail into the wall with any heavy,
+heftable object from a rock to a hammer to a cast-iron skillet. However,
+there's something about a hammer that cries out for nail-bashing, it has
+affordances that tilt its holder towards swinging it. And, as we all know, when
+all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
+The affordance of a computer -- the thing it's designed to do -- is to
+slice-and-dice collections of bits. The affordance of the Internet is to move
+bits at very high speed around the world at little-to-no cost. It follows from
+this that the center of the ebook experience is going to involve slicing and
+dicing text and sending it around.
+Copyright lawyers have a word for these activities: infringement. That's
+because copyright gives creators a near-total monopoly over copying and
+remixing of their work, pretty much forever (theoretically, copyright expires,
+but in actual practice, copyright gets extended every time the early Mickey
+Mouse cartoons are about to enter the public domain, because Disney swings a
+very big stick on the Hill).
+This is a huge problem. The biggest possible problem. Here's why:
+_* Authors freak out. Authors have been schooled by their peers that strong
+copyright is the only thing that keeps them from getting savagely rogered in
+the marketplace. This is pretty much true: it's strong copyright that often
+defends authors from their publishers' worst excesses. However, it doesn't
+follow that strong copyright protects you from your *{readers}*.
+_* Readers get indignant over being called crooks. Seriously. You're a small
+businessperson. Readers are your customers. Calling them crooks is bad for
+_* Publishers freak out. Publishers freak out, because they're in the business
+of grabbing as much copyright as they can and hanging onto it for dear life
+because, dammit, you never know. This is why science fiction magazines try to
+trick writers into signing over improbable rights for things like theme park
+rides and action figures based on their work -- it's also why literary agents
+are now asking for copyright-long commissions on the books they represent:
+copyright covers so much ground and takes to long to shake off, who wouldn't
+want a piece of it?
+_* Liability goes through the roof. Copyright infringement, especially on the
+Net, is a supercrime. It carries penalties of $150,000 per infringement, and
+aggrieved rights-holders and their representatives have all kinds of special
+powers, like the ability to force an ISP to turn over your personal information
+before showing evidence of your alleged infringement to a judge. This means
+that anyone who suspects that he might be on the wrong side of copyright law is
+going to be terribly risk-averse: publishers non-negotiably force their authors
+to indemnify them from infringement claims and go one better, forcing writers
+to prove that they have "cleared" any material they quote, even in the case of
+brief fair-use quotations, like song-titles at the opening of chapters. The
+result is that authors end up assuming potentially life-destroying liability,
+are chilled from quoting material around them, and are scared off of public
+domain texts because an honest mistake about the public-domain status of a work
+carries such a terrible price.
+_* Posterity vanishes. In the Eldred v. Ashcroft Supreme Court hearing last
+year, the court found that 98 percent of the works in copyright are no longer
+earning money for anyone, but that figuring out who these old works belong to
+with the degree of certainty that you'd want when one mistake means total
+economic apocalypse would cost more than you could ever possibly earn on them.
+That means that 98 percent of works will largely expire long before the
+copyright on them does. Today, the names of science fiction's ancestral
+founders -- Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, HG
+Wells -- are still known, their work still a part of the discourse. Their
+spiritual descendants from Hugo Gernsback onward may not be so lucky -- if
+their work continues to be "protected" by copyright, it might just vanish from
+the face of the earth before it reverts to the public domain.
+This isn't to say that copyright is bad, but that there's such a thing as good
+copyright and bad copyright, and that sometimes, too much good copyright is a
+bad thing. It's like chilis in soup: a little goes a long way, and too much
+spoils the broth.
+From the Luther Bible to the first phonorecords, from radio to the pulps, from
+cable to MP3, the world has shown that its first preference for new media is
+its "democratic-ness" -- the ease with which it can reproduced.
+(And please, before we get any farther, forget all that business about how the
+Internet's copying model is more disruptive than the technologies that
+proceeded it. For Christ's sake, the Vaudeville performers who sued Marconi for
+inventing the radio had to go from a regime where they had *{one hundred
+percent}* control over who could get into the theater and hear them perform to
+a regime where they had *{zero}* percent control over who could build or
+acquire a radio and tune into a recording of them performing. For that matter,
+look at the difference between a monkish Bible and a Luther Bible -- next to
+that phase-change, Napster is peanuts)
+Back to democratic-ness. Every successful new medium has traded off its
+artifact-ness -- the degree to which it was populated by bespoke hunks of
+atoms, cleverly nailed together by master craftspeople -- for ease of
+reproduction. Piano rolls weren't as expressive as good piano players, but they
+scaled better -- as did radio broadcasts, pulp magazines, and MP3s. Liner
+notes, hand illumination and leather bindings are nice, but they pale in
+comparison to the ability of an individual to actually get a copy of her own.
+Which isn't to say that old media die. Artists still hand-illuminate books;
+master pianists still stride the boards at Carnegie Hall, and the shelves burst
+with tell-all biographies of musicians that are richer in detail than any
+liner-notes booklet. The thing is, when all you've got is monks, every book
+takes on the character of a monkish Bible. Once you invent the printing press,
+all the books that are better-suited to movable type migrate into that new
+form. What's left behind are those items that are best suited to the old
+production scheme: the plays that *{need}* to be plays, the books that are
+especially lovely on creamy paper stitched between covers, the music that is
+most enjoyable performed live and experienced in a throng of humanity.
+Increased democratic-ness translates into decreased control: it's a lot harder
+to control who can copy a book once there's a photocopier on every corner than
+it is when you need a monastery and several years to copy a Bible. And that
+decreased control demands a new copyright regime that rebalances the rights of
+creators with their audiences.
+For example, when the VCR was invented, the courts affirmed a new copyright
+exemption for time-shifting; when the radio was invented, the Congress granted
+an anti-trust exemption to the record labels in order to secure a blanket
+license; when cable TV was invented, the government just ordered the
+broadcasters to sell the cable-operators access to programming at a fixed rate.
+Copyright is perennially out of date, because its latest rev was generated in
+response to the last generation of technology. The temptation to treat
+copyright as though it came down off the mountain on two stone tablets (or
+worse, as "just like" real property) is deeply flawed, since, by definition,
+current copyright only considers the last generation of tech.
+So, are bookwarez in violation of copyright law? Duh. Is this the end of the
+world? *{Duh}*. If the Catholic church can survive the printing press, science
+fiction will certainly weather the advent of bookwarez.
+Lagniappe [Lagniappe]
+We're almost done here, but there's one more thing I'd like to do before I get
+off the stage. [Lagniappe: an unexpected bonus or extra] Think of it as a
+"lagniappe" -- a little something extra to thank you for your patience.
+About a year ago, I released my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom,
+on the net, under the terms of the most restrictive Creative Commons license
+available. All it allowed my readers to do was send around copies of the book.
+I was cautiously dipping my toe into the water, though at the time, it felt
+like I was taking a plunge.
+Now I'm going to take a plunge. Today, I will re-license the text of Down and
+Out in the Magic Kingdom under a Creative Commons
+"Attribution-ShareAlike-Derivs-Noncommercial" license [HUMAN READABLE LICENSE],
+which means that as of today, you have my blessing to create derivative works
+from my first book. You can make movies, audiobooks, translations, fan-fiction,
+slash fiction (God help us) [GEEK HIERARCHY], furry slash fiction [GEEK
+HIERARCHY DETAIL], poetry, translations, t-shirts, you name it, with two
+provisos: that one, you have to allow everyone else to rip, mix and burn your
+creations in the same way you're hacking mine; and on the other hand, you've
+got to do it noncommercially.
+The sky didn't fall when I dipped my toe in. Let's see what happens when I get
+in up to my knees.
+The text with the new license will be online before the end of the day. Check
+craphound.com/down for details.
+Oh, and I'm also releasing the text of this speech under a Creative Commons
+Public Domain dedication, [Public domain dedication] giving it away to the
+world to do with as it see fits. It'll be linked off my blog, Boing Boing,
+before the day is through.
+1~ Free(konomic) E-books
+(Originally published in Locus Magazine, September 2007) ~#
+Can giving away free electronic books really sell printed books? I think so. As
+I explained in my March column ("You Do Like Reading Off a Computer Screen"), I
+don't believe that most readers want to read long-form works off a screen, and
+I don't believe that they will ever want to read long-form works off a screen.
+As I say in the column, the problem with reading off a screen isn't resolution,
+eyestrain, or compatibility with reading in the bathtub: it's that computers
+are seductive, they tempt us to do other things, making concentrating on a
+long-form work impractical.
+Sure, some readers have the cognitive 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 away free e-books cost me sales?" but rather,
+"Will giving away free e-books win me more sales than it costs me?"
+This is a very hard proposition to evaluate in a quantitative way. Books aren't
+lattes or cable-knit sweaters: each book sells (or doesn't) due to factors that
+are unique to that title. It's hard to imagine an empirical, controlled study
+in which two "equivalent" books are published, and one is also available as a
+free download, the other not, and the difference calculated as a means of
+"proving" whether e-books hurt or help sales in the long run.
+I've released all of my novels as free downloads simultaneous with their print
+publication. If I had a time machine, I could re-release them without the free
+downloads and compare the royalty statements. Lacking such a device, I'm forced
+to draw conclusions from qualitative, anecdotal evidence, and I've collected
+plenty of that:
+_* Many writers have tried free e-book releases to tie in with the print
+release of their works. To the best of my knowledge, every writer who's tried
+this has repeated the experiment with future works, suggesting a high degree of
+satisfaction with the outcomes
+_* A writer friend of mine had his first novel come out at the same time as
+mine. We write similar material and are often compared to one another by
+critics and reviewers. My first novel had a free download, his didn't. We
+compared sales figures and I was doing substantially better than him -- he
+subsequently convinced his publisher to let him follow suit
+_* Baen Books has a pretty good handle on expected sales for new volumes in
+long-running series; having sold many such series, they have lots of data to
+use in sales estimates. If Volume N sells X copies, we expect Volume N+1 to
+sell Y copies. They report that they have seen a measurable uptick in sales
+following from free e-book releases of previous and current volumes
+_* David Blackburn, a Harvard PhD candidate in economics, published a paper in
+2004 in which he calculated that, for music, "piracy" results in a net increase
+in sales for all titles in the 75th percentile and lower; negligible change in
+sales for the "middle class" of titles between the 75th percentile and the 97th
+percentile; and a small drag on the "super-rich" in the 97th percentile and
+higher. Publisher Tim O'Reilly describes this as "piracy's progressive
+taxation," apportioning a small wealth-redistribution to the vast majority of
+works, no net change to the middle, and a small cost on the richest few
+_* Speaking of Tim O'Reilly, he has just published a detailed, quantitative
+study of the effect of free downloads on a single title. O'Reilly Media
+published Asterisk: The Future of Telephony, in November 2005, simultaneously
+releasing the book as a free download. By March 2007, they had a pretty
+detailed picture of the sales-cycle of this book -- and, thanks to industry
+standard metrics like those provided by Bookscan, they could compare it,
+apples-to-apples style, against the performance of competing books treating
+with the same subject. O'Reilly's conclusion: downloads didn't cause a decline
+in sales, and appears to have resulted in a lift in sales. This is particularly
+noteworthy because the book in question is a technical reference work,
+exclusively consumed by computer programmers who are by definition disposed to
+read off screens. Also, this is a reference work and therefore is more likely
+to be useful in electronic form, where it can be easily searched
+_* In my case, my publishers have gone back to press repeatedly for my books.
+The print runs for each edition are modest -- I'm a midlist writer in a world
+with a shrinking midlist -- but publishers print what they think they can sell,
+and they're outselling their expectations
+_* The new opportunities arising from my free downloads are so numerous as to
+be uncountable -- foreign rights deals, comic book licenses, speaking
+engagements, article commissions -- I've made more money in these secondary
+markets than I have in royalties
+_* More anecdotes: I've had literally thousands of people approach me by e-mail
+and at signings and cons to say, "I found your work online for free, got
+hooked, and started buying it." By contrast, I've had all of five e-mails from
+people saying, "Hey, idiot, thanks for the free book, now I don't have to buy
+the print edition, ha ha!"
+Many of us have assumed, a priori, that electronic books substitute for print
+books. While I don't have controlled, quantitative data to refute the
+proposition, I do have plenty of experience with this stuff, and all that
+experience leads me to believe that giving away my books is selling the hell
+out of them.
+More importantly, the free e-book skeptics have no evidence to offer in support
+of their position -- just hand-waving and dark muttering about a mythological
+future when book-lovers give up their printed books for electronic book-readers
+(as opposed to the much more plausible future where book lovers go on buying
+their fetish objects and carry books around on their electronic devices).
+I started giving away e-books after I witnessed the early days of the
+"bookwarez" scene, wherein fans cut the binding off their favorite books,
+scanned them, ran them through optical character recognition software, and
+manually proofread them to eliminate the digitization errors. These fans were
+easily spending 80 hours to rip their favorite books, and they were only
+ripping their favorite books, books they loved and wanted to share. (The
+80-hour figure comes from my own attempt to do this -- I'm sure that rippers
+get faster with practice.)
+I thought to myself that 80 hours' free promotional effort would be a good
+thing to have at my disposal when my books entered the market. What if I gave
+my readers clean, canonical electronic editions of my works, saving them the
+bother of ripping them, and so freed them up to promote my work to their
+After all, it's not like there's any conceivable 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 metier).
+The timing couldn't have been better. Just as my first novel was being
+published, a new, high-tech project for promoting sharing of creative works
+launched: the Creative Commons project (CC). CC offers a set of tools that make
+it easy to mark works with whatever freedoms the author wants to give away. CC
+launched in 2003 and today, more than 160,000,000 works have been released
+under its licenses.
+My next column will go into more detail on what CC is, what licenses it offers,
+and how to use them -- but for now, check them out online at
+1~ The Progressive Apocalypse and Other Futurismic Delights
+(Originally published in Locus Magazine, July 2007) ~#
+Of course, science fiction is a literature of the present. Many's the science
+fiction writer who uses the future as a warped mirror for reflecting back the
+present day, angled to illustrate the hidden strangeness buried by our
+invisible assumptions: Orwell turned 1948 into Nineteen Eighty-Four. But even
+when the fictional future isn't a parable about the present day, it is
+necessarily a creation of the present day, since it reflects the present day
+biases that infuse the author. Hence Asimov's Foundation, a New Deal-esque
+project to think humanity out of its tribulations though social
+Bold SF writers eschew the future altogether, embracing a futuristic account of
+the present day. William Gibson's forthcoming Spook Country is an act of
+"speculative presentism," a book so futuristic it could only have been set in
+2006, a book that exploits retrospective historical distance to let us glimpse
+just how alien and futuristic our present day is.
+Science fiction writers aren't the only people in the business of predicting
+the future. Futurists -- consultants, technology columnists, analysts, venture
+capitalists, and entrepreneurial pitchmen -- spill a lot of ink, phosphors, and
+caffeinated hot air in describing a vision for a future where we'll get more
+and more of whatever it is they want to sell us or warn us away from. Tomorrow
+will feature faster, cheaper processors, more Internet users, ubiquitous RFID
+tags, radically democratic political processes dominated by bloggers, massively
+multiplayer games whose virtual economies dwarf the physical economy.
+There's a lovely neologism to describe these visions: "futurismic." Futurismic
+media is that which depicts futurism, not the future. It is often self-serving
+-- think of the antigrav Nikes in Back to the Future III -- and it generally
+doesn't hold up well to scrutiny.
+SF films and TV are great fonts of futurismic imagery: R2D2 is a fully
+conscious AI, can hack the firewall of the Death Star, and is equipped with a
+range of holographic projectors and antipersonnel devices -- but no one has
+installed a $15 sound card and some text-to-speech software on him, so he has
+to whistle like Harpo Marx. Or take the Starship Enterprise, with a transporter
+capable of constituting matter from digitally stored plans, and radios that can
+breach the speed of light.
+The non-futurismic version of NCC-1701 would be the size of a softball (or
+whatever the minimum size for a warp drive, transporter, and subspace radio
+would be). It would zip around the galaxy at FTL speeds under remote control.
+When it reached an interesting planet, it would beam a stored copy of a landing
+party onto the surface, and when their mission was over, it would beam them
+back into storage, annihilating their physical selves until they reached the
+next stopping point. If a member of the landing party were eaten by a
+green-skinned interspatial hippie or giant toga-wearing galactic tyrant, that
+member would be recovered from backup by the transporter beam. Hell, the entire
+landing party could consist of multiple copies of the most effective crewmember
+onboard: no redshirts, just a half-dozen instances of Kirk operating in clonal
+Futurism has a psychological explanation, as recounted in Harvard clinical
+psych prof Daniel Gilbert's 2006 book, Stumbling on Happiness. Our memories and
+our projections of the future are necessarily imperfect. Our memories consist
+of those observations our brains have bothered to keep records of, woven
+together with inference and whatever else is lying around handy when we try to
+remember something. Ask someone who's eating a great lunch how breakfast was,
+and odds are she'll tell you it was delicious. Ask the same question of someone
+eating rubbery airplane food, and he'll tell you his breakfast was awful. We
+weave the past out of our imperfect memories and our observable present.
+We make the future in much the same way: we use reasoning and evidence to
+predict what we can, and whenever we bump up against uncertainty, we fill the
+void with the present day. Hence the injunction on women soldiers in the future
+of Starship Troopers, or the bizarre, glassed-over "Progressland" city diorama
+at the end of the 1964 World's Fair exhibit The Carousel of Progress, which
+Disney built for GE.
+Lapsarianism -- the idea of a paradise lost, a fall from grace that makes each
+year worse than the last -- is the predominant future feeling for many people.
+It's easy to see why: an imperfectly remembered golden childhood gives way to
+the worries of adulthood and physical senescence. Surely the world is getting
+worse: nothing tastes as good as it did when we were six, everything hurts all
+the time, and our matured gonads drive us into frenzies of bizarre,
+self-destructive behavior.
+Lapsarianism dominates the Abrahamic faiths. I have an Orthodox Jewish friend
+whose tradition holds that each generation of rabbis is necessarily less
+perfect than the rabbis that came before, since each generation is more removed
+from the perfection of the Garden. Therefore, no rabbi is allowed to overturn
+any of his forebears' wisdom, since they are all, by definition, smarter than
+The natural endpoint of Lapsarianism is apocalypse. If things get worse, and
+worse, and worse, eventually they'll just run out of worseness. Eventually,
+they'll bottom out, a kind of rotten death of the universe when Lapsarian
+entropy hits the nadir and takes us all with it.
+Running counter to Lapsarianism is progressivism: the Enlightenment ideal of a
+world of great people standing on the shoulders of giants. Each of us
+contributes to improving the world's storehouse of knowledge (and thus its
+capacity for bringing joy to all of us), and our descendants and proteges take
+our work and improve on it. The very idea of "progress" runs counter to the
+idea of Lapsarianism and the fall: it is the idea that we, as a species, are
+falling in reverse, combing back the wild tangle of entropy into a neat, tidy
+Of course, progress must also have a boundary condition -- if only because we
+eventually run out of imaginary ways that the human condition can improve. And
+science fiction has a name for the upper bound of progress, a name for the
+progressive apocalypse:
+We call it the Singularity.
+Vernor Vinge's Singularity takes place when our technology reaches a stage that
+allows us to "upload" our minds into software, run them at faster, hotter
+speeds than our neurological wetware substrate allows for, and create multiple,
+parallel instances of ourselves. After the Singularity, nothing is predictable
+because everything is possible. We will cease to be human and become (as the
+title of Rudy Rucker's next novel would have it) Postsingular.
+The Singularity is what happens when we have so much progress that we run out
+of progress. It's the apocalypse that ends the human race in rapture and joy.
+Indeed, Ken MacLeod calls the Singularity "the rapture of the nerds," an apt
+description for the mirror-world progressive version of the Lapsarian
+At the end of the day, both progress and the fall from grace are illusions. The
+central thesis of Stumbling on Happiness is that human beings are remarkably
+bad at predicting what will make us happy. Our predictions are skewed by our
+imperfect memories and our capacity for filling the future with the present
+The future is gnarlier than futurism. NCC-1701 probably wouldn't send out
+transporter-equipped drones -- instead, it would likely find itself on missions
+whose ethos, mores, and rationale are largely incomprehensible to us, and so
+obvious to its crew that they couldn't hope to explain them.
+Science fiction is the literature of the present, and the present is the only
+era that we can hope to understand, because it's the only era that lets us
+check our observations and predictions against reality.
+1~ When the Singularity is More Than a Literary Device: An Interview with
+Futurist-Inventor Ray Kurzweil
+(Originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, June 2005) ~#
+It's not clear to me whether the Singularity is a technical belief system or a
+spiritual one.
+The Singularity -- a notion that's crept into a lot 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 every twelve months, and then every ten, and
+eventually, every five seconds.
+Singularities are, literally, holes in space from whence no information can
+emerge, and so SF writers occasionally mutter about how hard it is to tell a
+story set after the information Singularity. Everything will be different. What
+it means to be human will be so different that what it means to be in danger,
+or happy, or sad, or any of the other elements that make up the
+squeeze-and-release tension in a good yarn will be unrecognizable to us
+It's a neat conceit to write around. I've committed Singularity a couple of
+times, usually in collaboration with gonzo Singleton Charlie Stross, the mad
+antipope of the Singularity. But those stories have the same relation to
+futurism as romance novels do to love: a shared jumping-off point, but
+radically different morphologies.
+Of course, the Singularity isn't just a conceit for noodling with in the pages
+of the pulps: it's the subject of serious-minded punditry, futurism, and even
+Ray Kurzweil is one such pundit-futurist-scientist. He's a serial entrepreneur
+who founded successful businesses that advanced the fields of optical character
+recognition (machine-reading) software, text-to-speech synthesis, synthetic
+musical instrument simulation, computer-based speech recognition, and
+stock-market analysis. He cured his own Type-II diabetes through a careful
+review of the literature and the judicious application of first principles and
+reason. To a casual observer, Kurzweil appears to be the star of some kind of
+Heinlein novel, stealing fire from the gods and embarking on a quest to bring
+his maverick ideas to the public despite the dismissals of the establishment,
+getting rich in the process.
+Kurzweil believes in the Singularity. In his 1990 manifesto, "The Age of
+Intelligent Machines," Kurzweil persuasively argued that we were on the brink
+of meaningful machine intelligence. A decade later, he continued the argument
+in a book called The Age of Spiritual Machines, whose most audacious claim is
+that the world's computational capacity has been slowly doubling since the
+crust first cooled (and before!), and that the doubling interval has been
+growing shorter and shorter with each passing year, so that now we see it
+reflected in the computer industry's Moore's Law, which predicts that
+microprocessors will get twice as powerful for half the cost about every
+eighteen months. The breathtaking sweep of this trend has an obvious
+conclusion: computers more powerful than people; more powerful than we can
+Now Kurzweil has published two more books, The Singularity Is Near, When Humans
+Transcend Biology (Viking, Spring 2005) and Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough
+to Live Forever (with Terry Grossman, Rodale, November 2004). The former is a
+technological roadmap for creating the conditions necessary for ascent into
+Singularity; the latter is a book about life-prolonging technologies that will
+assist baby-boomers in living long enough to see the day when technological
+immortality is achieved.
+See what I meant about his being a Heinlein hero?
+I still don't know if the Singularity is a spiritual or a technological belief
+system. It has all the trappings of spirituality, to be sure. If you are pure
+and kosher, if you live right and if your society is just, then you will live
+to see a moment of Rapture when your flesh will slough away leaving nothing
+behind but your ka, your soul, your consciousness, to ascend to an immortal and
+pure state.
+I wrote a novel called Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom where characters could
+make backups of themselves and recover from them if something bad happened,
+like catching a cold or being assassinated. It raises a lot of existential
+questions: most prominently: are you still you when you've been restored from
+The traditional AI answer is the Turing Test, invented by Alan Turing, the gay
+pioneer of cryptography and artificial intelligence who was forced by the
+British government to take hormone treatments to "cure" him of his
+homosexuality, culminating in his suicide in 1954. Turing cut through the
+existentialism about measuring whether a machine is intelligent by proposing a
+parlor game: a computer sits behind a locked door with a chat program, and a
+person sits behind another locked door with his own chat program, and they both
+try to convince a judge that they are real people. If the computer fools a
+human judge into thinking that it's a person, then to all intents and purposes,
+it's a person.
+So how do you know if the backed-up you that you've restored into a new body --
+or a jar with a speaker attached to it -- is really you? Well, you can ask it
+some questions, and if it answers the same way that you do, you're talking to a
+faithful copy of yourself.
+Sounds good. But the me who sent his first story into Asimov's seventeen years
+ago couldn't answer the question, "Write a story for Asimov's" the same way the
+me of today could. Does that mean I'm not me anymore?
+Kurzweil has the answer.
+"If you follow that logic, then if you were to take me ten years ago, I could
+not pass for myself in a Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. But once the requisite
+uploading technology becomes available a few decades hence, you could make a
+perfect-enough copy of me, and it would pass the Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. The
+copy doesn't have to match the quantum state of my every neuron, either: if you
+meet me the next day, I'd pass the Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. Nevertheless, none
+of the quantum states in my brain would be the same. There are quite a few
+changes that each of us undergo from day to day, we don't examine the
+assumption that we are the same person closely.
+"We gradually change our pattern of atoms and neurons but we very rapidly
+change the particles the pattern is made up of. We used to think that in the
+brain -- the physical part of us most closely associated with our identity --
+cells change very slowly, but it turns out that the components of the neurons,
+the tubules and so forth, turn over in only days. I'm a completely different
+set of particles from what I was a week ago.
+"Consciousness is a difficult subject, and I'm always surprised by how many
+people talk about consciousness routinely as if it could be easily and readily
+tested scientifically. But we can't postulate a consciousness detector that
+does not have some assumptions about consciousness built into it.
+"Science is about objective third party observations and logical deductions
+from them. Consciousness is about first-person, subjective experience, and
+there's a fundamental gap there. We live in a world of assumptions about
+consciousness. We share the assumption that other human beings are conscious,
+for example. But that breaks down when we go outside of humans, when we
+consider, for example, animals. Some say only humans are conscious and animals
+are instinctive and machinelike. Others see humanlike behavior in an animal and
+consider the animal conscious, but even these observers don't generally
+attribute consciousness to animals that aren't humanlike.
+"When machines are complex enough to have responses recognizable as emotions,
+those machines will be more humanlike than animals."
+The Kurzweil Singularity goes like this: computers get better and smaller. Our
+ability to measure the world gains precision and grows ever cheaper.
+Eventually, we can measure the world inside the brain and make a copy of it in
+a computer that's as fast and complex as a brain, and voila, intelligence.
+Here in the twenty-first century we like to view ourselves as ambulatory
+brains, plugged into meat-puppets that lug our precious grey matter from place
+to place. We tend to think of that grey matter as transcendently complex, and
+we think of it as being the bit that makes us us.
+But brains aren't that complex, Kurzweil says. Already, we're starting to
+unravel their mysteries.
+"We seem to have found one area of the brain closely associated with
+higher-level emotions, the spindle cells, deeply embedded in the brain. There
+are tens of thousands of them, spanning the whole brain (maybe eighty thousand
+in total), which is an incredibly small number. Babies don't have any, most
+animals don't have any, and they likely only evolved over the last million
+years or so. Some of the high-level emotions that are deeply human come from
+"Turing had the right insight: base the test for intelligence on written
+language. Turing Tests really work. A novel is based on language: with language
+you can conjure up any reality, much more so than with images. Turing almost
+lived to see computers doing a good job of performing in fields like math,
+medical diagnosis and so on, but those tasks were easier for a machine than
+demonstrating even a child's mastery of language. Language is the true
+embodiment of human intelligence."
+If we're not so complex, then it's only a matter of time until computers are
+more complex than us. When that comes, our brains will be model-able in a
+computer and that's when the fun begins. That's the thesis of Spiritual
+Machines, which even includes a (Heinlein-style) timeline leading up to this
+Now, it may be that a human brain contains n logic-gates and runs at x cycles
+per second and stores z petabytes, and that n and x and z are all within reach.
+It may be that we can take a brain apart and record the position and
+relationships of all the neurons and sub-neuronal elements that constitute a
+But there are also a nearly infinite number of ways of modeling a brain in a
+computer, and only a finite (or possibly nonexistent) fraction of that space
+will yield a conscious copy of the original meat-brain. Science fiction writers
+usually hand-wave this step: in Heinlein's "Man Who Sold the Moon," the gimmick
+is that once the computer becomes complex enough, with enough "random numbers,"
+it just wakes up.
+Computer programmers are a little more skeptical. Computers have never been
+known for their skill at programming themselves -- they tend to be no smarter
+than the people who write their software.
+But there are techniques for getting computers to program themselves, based on
+evolution and natural selection. A programmer creates a system that spits out
+lots -- thousands or even millions -- of randomly generated programs. Each one
+is given the opportunity to perform a computational task (say, sorting a list
+of numbers from greatest to least) and the ones that solve the problem best are
+kept aside while the others are erased. Now the survivors are used as the basis
+for a new generation of randomly mutated descendants, each based on elements of
+the code that preceded them. By running many instances of a randomly varied
+program at once, and by culling the least successful and regenerating the
+population from the winners very quickly, it is possible to evolve effective
+software that performs as well or better than the code written by human
+Indeed, evolutionary computing is a promising and exciting field that's
+realizing real returns through cool offshoots like "ant colony optimization"
+and similar approaches that are showing good results in fields as diverse as
+piloting military UAVs and efficiently provisioning car-painting robots at
+automotive plants.
+So if you buy Kurzweil's premise that computation is getting cheaper and more
+plentiful than ever, then why not just use evolutionary algorithms to evolve
+the best way to model a scanned-in human brain such that it "wakes up" like
+Heinlein's Mike computer?
+Indeed, this is the crux of Kurzweil's argument in Spiritual Machines: if we
+have computation to spare and a detailed model of a human brain, we need only
+combine them and out will pop the mechanism whereby we may upload our
+consciousness to digital storage media and transcend our weak and bothersome
+meat forever.Indeed, this is the crux of Kurzweil's argument in Spiritual
+Machines: if we have computation to spare and a detailed model of a human
+brain, we need only combine them and out will pop the mechanism whereby we may
+upload our consciousness to digital storage media and transcend our weak and
+bothersome meat forever.
+But it's a cheat. Evolutionary algorithms depend on the same mechanisms as
+real-world evolution: heritable variation of candidates and a system that culls
+the least-suitable candidates. This latter -- the fitness-factor that
+determines which individuals in a cohort breed and which vanish -- is the key
+to a successful evolutionary system. Without it, there's no pressure for the
+system to achieve the desired goal: merely mutation and more mutation.
+But how can a machine evaluate which of a trillion models of a human brain is
+"most like" a conscious mind? Or better still: which one is most like the
+individual whose brain is being modeled?
+"It is a sleight of hand in Spiritual Machines," Kurzweil admits. "But in The
+Singularity Is Near, I have an in-depth discussion about what we know about the
+brain and how to model it. Our tools for understanding the brain are subject to
+the Law of Accelerating Returns, and we've made more progress in
+reverse-engineering the human brain than most people realize." This is a tasty
+Kurzweilism that observes that improvements in technology yield tools for
+improving technology, round and round, so that the thing that progress begets
+more than anything is more and yet faster progress.
+"Scanning resolution of human tissue -- both spatial and temporal -- is
+doubling every year, and so is our knowledge of the workings of the brain. The
+brain is not one big neural net, the brain is several hundred different
+regions, and we can understand each region, we can model the regions with
+mathematics, most of which have some nexus with chaos and self-organizing
+systems. This has already been done for a couple dozen regions out of the
+several hundred.
+"We have a good model of a dozen or so regions of the auditory and visual
+cortex, how we strip images down to very low-resolution movies based on pattern
+recognition. Interestingly, we don't actually see things, we essentially
+hallucinate them in detail from what we see from these low resolution cues.
+Past the early phases of the visual cortex, detail doesn't reach the brain.
+"We are getting exponentially more knowledge. We can get detailed scans of
+neurons working in vivo, and are beginning to understand the chaotic algorithms
+underlying human intelligence. In some cases, we are getting comparable
+performance of brain regions in simulation. These tools will continue to grow
+in detail and sophistication.
+"We can have confidence of reverse-engineering the brain in twenty years or so.
+The reason that brain reverse engineering has not contributed much to
+artificial intelligence is that up until recently we didn't have the right
+tools. If I gave you a computer and a few magnetic sensors and asked you to
+reverse-engineer it, you might figure out that there's a magnetic device
+spinning when a file is saved, but you'd never get at the instruction set. Once
+you reverse-engineer the computer fully, however, you can express its
+principles of operation in just a few dozen pages.
+"Now there are new tools that let us see the interneuronal connections and
+their signaling, in vivo, and in real-time. We're just now getting these tools
+and there's very rapid application of the tools to obtain the data.
+"Twenty years from now we will have realistic simulations and models of all the
+regions of the brain and [we will] understand how they work. We won't blindly
+or mindlessly copy those methods, we will understand them and use them to
+improve our AI toolkit. So we'll learn how the brain works and then apply the
+sophisticated tools that we will obtain, as we discover how the brain works.
+"Once we understand a subtle science principle, we can isolate, amplify, and
+expand it. Air goes faster over a curved surface: from that insight we
+isolated, amplified, and expanded the idea and invented air travel. We'll do
+the same with intelligence.
+"Progress is exponential -- not just a measure of power of computation, number
+of Internet nodes, and magnetic spots on a hard disk -- the rate of paradigm
+shift is itself accelerating, doubling every decade. Scientists look at a
+problem and they intuitively conclude that since we've solved 1 percent over
+the last year, it'll therefore be one hundred years until the problem is
+exhausted: but the rate of progress doubles every decade, and the power of the
+information tools (in price-performance, resolution, bandwidth, and so on)
+doubles every year. People, even scientists, don't grasp exponential growth.
+During the first decade of the human genome project, we only solved 2 percent
+of the problem, but we solved the remaining 98 percent in five years."
+But Kurzweil doesn't think that the future will arrive in a rush. As William
+Gibson observed, "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed."
+"Sure, it'd be interesting to take a human brain, scan it, reinstantiate the
+brain, and run it on another substrate. That will ultimately happen."
+"But the most salient scenario is that we'll gradually merge with our
+technology. We'll use nanobots to kill pathogens, then to kill cancer cells,
+and then they'll go into our brain and do benign things there like augment our
+memory, and very gradually they'll get more and more sophisticated. There's no
+single great leap, but there is ultimately a great leap comprised of many small
+"In The Singularity Is Near, I describe the radically different world of 2040,
+and how we'll get there one benign change at a time. The Singularity will be
+gradual, smooth.
+"Really, this is about augmenting our biological thinking with nonbiological
+thinking. We have a capacity of 1026 to 1029 calculations per second (cps) in
+the approximately 1010 biological human brains on Earth and that number won't
+change much in fifty years, but nonbiological thinking will just crash through
+that. By 2049, nonbiological thinking capacity will be on the order of a
+billion times that. We'll get to the point where bio thinking is relatively
+"People didn't throw their typewriters away when word-processing started.
+There's always an overlap -- it'll take time before we realize how much more
+powerful nonbiological thinking will ultimately be."
+It's well and good to talk about all the stuff we can do with technology, but
+it's a lot more important to talk about the stuff we'll be allowed to do with
+technology. Think of the global freak-out caused by the relatively trivial
+advent of peer-to-peer file-sharing tools: Universities are wiretapping their
+campuses and disciplining computer science students for writing legitimate,
+general purpose software; grandmothers and twelve-year-olds are losing their
+life savings; privacy and due process have sailed out the window without so
+much as a by-your-leave.
+Even P2P's worst enemies admit that this is a general-purpose technology with
+good and bad uses, but when new tech comes along it often engenders a response
+that countenances punishing an infinite number of innocent people to get at the
+What's going to happen when the new technology paradigm isn't song-swapping,
+but transcendent super-intelligence? Will the reactionary forces be justified
+in razing the whole ecosystem to eliminate a few parasites who are doing
+negative things with the new tools?
+"Complex ecosystems will always have parasites. Malware [malicious software] is
+the most important battlefield today.
+"Everything will become software -- objects will be malleable, we'll spend lots
+of time in VR, and computhought will be orders of magnitude more important than
+"Software is already complex enough that we have an ecological terrain that has
+emerged just as it did in the bioworld.
+"That's partly because technology is unregulated and people have access to the
+tools to create malware and the medicine to treat it. Today's software viruses
+are clever and stealthy and not simpleminded. Very clever.
+"But here's the thing: you don't see people advocating shutting down the
+Internet because malware is so destructive. I mean, malware is potentially more
+than a nuisance -- emergency systems, air traffic control, and nuclear reactors
+all run on vulnerable software. It's an important issue, but the potential
+damage is still a tiny fraction of the benefit we get from the Internet.
+"I hope it'll remain that way -- that the Internet won't become a regulated
+space like medicine. Malware's not the most important issue facing human
+society today. Designer bioviruses are. People are concerted about WMDs, but
+the most daunting WMD would be a designed biological virus. The means exist in
+college labs to create destructive viruses that erupt and spread silently with
+long incubation periods.
+"Importantly, a would-be bio-terrorist doesn't have to put malware through the
+FDA's regulatory approval process, but scientists working to fix bio-malware
+"In Huxley's Brave New World, the rationale for the totalitarian system was
+that technology was too dangerous and needed to be controlled. But that just
+pushes technology underground where it becomes less stable. Regulation gives
+the edge of power to the irresponsible who won't listen to the regulators
+"The way to put more stones on the defense side of the scale is to put more
+resources into defensive technologies, not create a totalitarian regime of
+Draconian control.
+"I advocate a one hundred billion dollar program to accelerate the development
+of anti-biological virus technology. The way to combat this is to develop broad
+tools to destroy viruses. We have tools like RNA interference, just discovered
+in the past two years to block gene expression. We could develop means to
+sequence the genes of a new virus (SARS only took thirty-one days) and respond
+to it in a matter of days.
+"Think about it. There's no FDA for software, no certification for programmers.
+The government is thinking about it, though! The reason the FCC is
+contemplating Trusted Computing mandates," -- a system to restrict what a
+computer can do by means of hardware locks embedded on the motherboard -- "is
+that computing technology is broadening to cover everything. So now you have
+communications bureaucrats, biology bureaucrats, all wanting to regulate
+"Biology would be a lot more stable if we moved away from regulation -- which
+is extremely irrational and onerous and doesn't appropriately balance risks.
+Many medications are not available today even though they should be. The FDA
+always wants to know what happens if we approve this and will it turn into a
+thalidomide situation that embarrasses us on CNN?
+"Nobody asks about the harm that will certainly accrue from delaying a
+treatment for one or more years. There's no political weight at all, people
+have been dying from diseases like heart disease and cancer for as long as
+we've been alive. Attributable risks get 100-1000 times more weight than
+unattributable risks."
+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 seriously.
+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 them. It is a
+system of belief that concerns itself with the meddling of non-believers, who
+work to undermine its goals through irrational systems predicated on their
+disbelief. It is a system of belief that asks and answers the question of what
+it means to be human.
+It's no wonder that the Singularity has come to occupy so much of the science
+fiction narrative in these years. Science or spirituality, you could hardly ask
+for a subject better tailored to technological speculation and drama.
+1~ Wikipedia: a genuine Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy -- minus the editors
+(Originally published in The Anthology at the End of the Universe, April 2005)
+"Mostly Harmless" -- a phrase so funny that Adams actually titled a book after
+it. Not that there's a lot of comedy inherent in those two words: rather,
+they're the punchline to a joke that anyone who's ever written for publication
+can really get behind.
+Ford Prefect, a researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has been
+stationed on Earth for years, painstakingly compiling an authoritative,
+insightful entry on Terran geography, science and culture, excerpts from which
+appear throughout the H2G2 books. His entry improved upon the old one, which
+noted that Earth was, simply, "Harmless."
+However, the Guide has limited space, and when Ford submits his entry to his
+editors, it is trimmed to fit:
+ "What? Harmless? Is that all it's got to say? Harmless! One
+ word!"
+ Ford shrugged. "Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the
+ Galaxy, and only a limited amount of space in the book's
+ microprocessors," he said, "and no one knew much about the Earth
+ of course."
+ "Well for God's sake I hope you managed to rectify that a bit."
+ "Oh yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to the editor.
+ He had to trim it a bit, but it's still an improvement."
+ "And what does it say now?" asked Arthur.
+ "Mostly harmless," admitted Ford with a slightly embarrassed
+ cough.
+[fn: My lifestyle is as gypsy and fancy-free as the characters in H2G2, and as
+a result my copies of the Adams books are thousands of miles away in storages
+in other countries, and this essay was penned on public transit and cheap hotel
+rooms in Chile, Boston, London, Geneva, Brussels, Bergen, Geneva (again),
+Toronto, Edinburgh, and Helsinki. Luckily, I was able to download a dodgy,
+re-keyed version of the Adams books from a peer-to-peer network, which network
+I accessed via an open wireless network on a random street-corner in an
+anonymous city, a fact that I note here as testimony to the power of the
+Internet to do what the Guide does for Ford and Arthur: put all the information
+I need at my fingertips, wherever I am. However, these texts *{are}* a little
+on the dodgy side, as noted, so you might want to confirm these quotes before,
+say, uttering them before an Adams truefan.]
+And there's the humor: every writer knows the pain of laboring over a piece for
+days, infusing it with diverse interesting factoids and insights, only to have
+it cut to ribbons by some distant editor (I once wrote thirty drafts of a
+5,000-word article for an editor who ended up running it in three paragraphs as
+accompaniment for what he decided should be a photo essay with minimal
+Since the dawn of the Internet, H2G2 geeks have taken it upon themselves to
+attempt to make a Guide on the Internet. Volunteers wrote and submitted essays
+on various subjects as would be likely to appear in a good encyclopedia,
+infusing them with equal measures of humor and thoughtfulness, and they were
+edited together by the collective effort of the contributors. These projects --
+Everything2, H2G2 (which was overseen by Adams himself), and others -- are like
+a barn-raising in which a team of dedicated volunteers organize the labors of
+casual contributors, piecing together a free and open user-generated
+These encyclopedias have one up on Adams's Guide: they have no shortage of
+space on their "microprocessors" (the first volume of the Guide was clearly
+written before Adams became conversant with PCs!). The ability of humans to
+generate verbiage is far outstripped by the ability of technologists to
+generate low-cost, reliable storage to contain it. For example, Brewster
+Kahle's Internet Archive project (archive.org) has been making a copy of the
+Web -- the *{whole}* Web, give or take -- every couple of days since 1996.
+Using the Archive's Wayback Machine, you can now go and see what any page
+looked like on a given day.
+The Archive doesn't even bother throwing away copies of pages that haven't
+changed since the last time they were scraped: with storage as cheap as it is
+-- and it is *{very}* cheap for the Archive, which runs the largest database in
+the history of the universe off of a collection of white-box commodity PCs
+stacked up on packing skids in the basement of a disused armory in San
+Francisco's Presidio -- there's no reason not to just keep them around. In
+fact, the Archive has just spawned two "mirror" Archives, one located under the
+rebuilt Library of Alexandria and the other in Amsterdam. [fn: Brewster Kahle
+says that he was nervous about keeping his only copy of the "repository of all
+human knowledge" on the San Andreas fault, but keeping your backups in a
+censorship-happy Amnesty International watchlist state and/or in a floodplain
+below sea level is probably not such a good idea either!]
+So these systems did not see articles trimmed for lack of space; for on the
+Internet, the idea of "running out of space" is meaningless. But they *{were}*
+trimmed, by editorial cliques, and rewritten for clarity and style. Some
+entries were rejected as being too thin, while others were sent back to the
+author for extensive rewrites.
+This traditional separation of editor and writer mirrors the creative process
+itself, in which authors are exhorted to concentrate on *{either}* composing
+*{or}* revising, but not both at the same time, for the application of the
+critical mind to the creative process strangles it. So you write, and then you
+edit. Even when you write for your own consumption, it seems you have to answer
+to an editor.
+The early experimental days of the Internet saw much experimentation with
+alternatives to traditional editor/author divisions. Slashdot, a nerdy
+news-site of surpassing popularity [fn: Having a link to one's website posted
+to Slashdot will almost inevitably overwhelm your server with traffic, knocking
+all but the best-provisioned hosts offline within minutes; this is commonly
+referred to as "the Slashdot Effect."], has a baroque system for "community
+moderation" of the responses to the articles that are posted to its front
+pages. Readers, chosen at random, are given five "moderator points" that they
+can use to raise or lower the score of posts on the Slashdot message boards.
+Subsequent readers can filter their views of these boards to show only highly
+ranked posts. Other readers are randomly presented with posts and their
+rankings and are asked to rate the fairness of each moderator's moderation.
+Moderators who moderate fairly are given more opportunities to moderate;
+likewise message-board posters whose messages are consistently highly rated.
+It is thought that this system rewards good "citizenship" on the Slashdot
+boards through checks and balances that reward good messages and fair editorial
+practices. And in the main, the Slashdot moderation system works [fn: as do
+variants on it, like the system in place at Kur5hin.org (pronounced
+"corrosion")]. If you dial your filter up to show you highly scored messages,
+you will generally get well-reasoned, or funny, or genuinely useful posts in
+your browser.
+This community moderation scheme and ones like it have been heralded as a good
+alternative to traditional editorship. The importance of the Internet to "edit
+itself" is best understood in relation to the old shibboleth, "On the Internet,
+everyone is a slushreader." [fn: "Slush" is the term for generally execrable
+unsolicited manuscripts that fetch up in publishers' offices -- these are
+typically so bad that the most junior people on staff are drafted into reading
+(and, usually, rejecting) them]. When the Internet's radical transformative
+properties were first bandied about in publishing circles, many reassured
+themselves that even if printing's importance was de-emphasized, that good
+editors would always been needed, and doubly so online, where any
+mouth-breather with a modem could publish his words. Someone would need to
+separate the wheat from the chaff and help keep us from drowning in
+One of the best-capitalized businesses in the history of the world, Yahoo!,
+went public on the strength of this notion, proposing to use an army of
+researchers to catalog every single page on the Web even as it was created,
+serving as a comprehensive guide to all human knowledge. Less than a decade
+later, Yahoo! is all but out of that business: the ability of the human race to
+generate new pages far outstrips Yahoo!'s ability to read, review, rank and
+categorize them.
+Hence Slashdot, a system of distributed slushreading. Rather than
+professionalizing the editorship role, Slashdot invites contributors to
+identify good stuff when they see it, turning editorship into a reward for good
+But as well as Slashdot works, it has this signal failing: nearly every
+conversation that takes place on Slashdot is shot through with discussion,
+griping and gaming *{on the moderation system itself}*. The core task of
+Slashdot has *{become}* editorship, not the putative subjects of Slashdot
+posts. The fact that the central task of Slashdot is to rate other Slashdotters
+creates a tenor of meanness in the discussion. Imagine if the subtext of every
+discussion you had in the real world was a kind of running, pedantic nitpickery
+in which every point was explicitly weighed and judged and commented upon.
+You'd be an unpleasant, unlikable jerk, the kind of person that is sometimes
+referred to as a "slashdork."
+As radical as Yahoo!'s conceit was, Slashdot's was more radical. But as radical
+as Slashdot's is, it is still inherently conservative in that it presumes that
+editorship is necessary, and that it further requires human judgment and
+Google's a lot more radical. Instead of editors, it has an algorithm. Not the
+kind of algorithm that dominated the early search engines like Altavista, in
+which laughably bad artificial intelligence engines attempted to automatically
+understand the content, context and value of every page on the Web so that a
+search for "Dog" would turn up the page more relevant to the query.
+Google's algorithm is predicated on the idea that people are good at
+understanding things and computers are good at counting things. Google counts
+up all the links on the Web and affords more authority to those pages that have
+been linked to by the most other pages. The rationale is that if a page has
+been linked to by many web-authors, then they must have seen some merit in that
+page. This system works remarkably well -- so well that it's nearly
+inconceivable that any search-engine would order its rankings by any other
+means. What's more, it doesn't pervert the tenor of the discussions and pages
+that it catalogs by turning each one into a performance for a group of ranking
+peers. [fn: Or at least, it *{didn't}*. Today, dedicated web-writers, such as
+bloggers, are keenly aware of the way that Google will interpret their choices
+about linking and page-structure. One popular sport is "googlebombing," in
+which web-writers collude to link to a given page using a humorous keyword so
+that the page becomes the top result for that word -- which is why, for a time,
+the top result for "more evil than Satan" was Microsoft.com. Likewise, the
+practice of "blogspamming," in which unscrupulous spammers post links to their
+webpages in the message boards on various blogs, so that Google will be tricked
+into thinking that a wide variety of sites have conferred some authority onto
+their penis-enlargement page.]
+But even Google is conservative in assuming that there is a need for editorship
+as distinct from composition. Is there a way we can dispense with editorship
+altogether and just use composition to refine our ideas? Can we merge
+composition and editorship into a single role, fusing our creative and critical
+You betcha.
+"Wikis" [fn: Hawai'ian for "fast"] are websites that can be edited by anyone.
+They were invented by Ward Cunningham in 1995, and they have become one of the
+dominant tools for Internet collaboration in the present day. Indeed, there is
+a sort of Internet geek who throws up a Wiki in the same way that ants make
+anthills: reflexively, unconsciously.
+Here's how a Wiki works. You put up a page:
+ Welcome to my Wiki. It is rad.
+ There are OtherWikis that inspired me.
+Click "publish" and bam, the page is live. The word "OtherWikis" will be
+underlined, having automatically been turned into a link to a blank page titled
+"OtherWikis" (Wiki software recognizes words with capital letters in the middle
+of them as links to other pages. Wiki people call this "camel-case," because
+the capital letters in the middle of words make them look like humped camels.)
+At the bottom of it appears this legend: "Edit this page."
+Click on "Edit this page" and the text appears in an editable field. Revise the
+text to your heart's content and click "Publish" and your revisions are live.
+Anyone who visits a Wiki can edit any of its pages, adding to it, improving on
+it, adding camel-cased links to new subjects, or even defacing or deleting it.
+It is authorship without editorship. Or authorship fused with editorship.
+Whichever, it works, though it requires effort. The Internet, like all human
+places and things, is fraught with spoilers and vandals who deface whatever
+they can. Wiki pages are routinely replaced with obscenities, with links to
+spammers' websites, with junk and crap and flames.
+But Wikis have self-defense mechanisms, too. Anyone can "subscribe" to a Wiki
+page, and be notified when it is updated. Those who create Wiki pages generally
+opt to act as "gardeners" for them, ensuring that they are on hand to undo the
+work of the spoilers.
+In this labor, they are aided by another useful Wiki feature: the "history"
+link. Every change to every Wiki page is logged and recorded. Anyone can page
+back through every revision, and anyone can revert the current version to a
+previous one. That means that vandalism only lasts as long as it takes for a
+gardener to come by and, with one or two clicks, set things to right.
+This is a powerful and wildly successful model for collaboration, and there is
+no better example of this than the Wikipedia, a free, Wiki-based encyclopedia
+with more than one million entries, which has been translated into 198
+languages [fn: That is, one or more Wikipedia entries have been translated into
+198 languages; more than 15 languages have 10,000 or more entries translated]
+Wikipedia is built entirely out of Wiki pages created by self-appointed
+experts. Contributors research and write up subjects, or produce articles on
+subjects that they are familiar with.
+This is authorship, but what of editorship? For if there is one thing a Guide
+or an encyclopedia must have, it is authority. It must be vetted by
+trustworthy, neutral parties, who present something that is either The Truth or
+simply A Truth, but truth nevertheless.
+The Wikipedia has its skeptics. Al Fasoldt, a writer for the Syracuse
+Post-Standard, apologized to his readers for having recommended that they
+consult Wikipedia. A reader of his, a librarian, wrote in and told him that his
+recommendation had been irresponsible, for Wikipedia articles are often defaced
+or worse still, rewritten with incorrect information. When another journalist
+from the Techdirt website wrote to Fasoldt to correct this impression, Fasoldt
+responded with an increasingly patronizing and hysterical series of messages in
+which he described Wikipedia as "outrageous," "repugnant" and "dangerous,"
+insulting the Techdirt writer and storming off in a huff. [fn: see
+http://techdirt.com/articles/20040827/0132238_F.shtml for more]
+Spurred on by this exchange, many of Wikipedia's supporters decided to
+empirically investigate the accuracy and resilience of the system. Alex
+Halavais made changes to 13 different pages, ranging from obvious to subtle.
+Every single change was found and corrected within hours. [fn: see
+http://alex.halavais.net/news/index.php?p=794 for more] Then legendary
+Princeton engineer Ed Felten ran side-by-side comparisons of Wikipedia entries
+on areas in which he had deep expertise with their counterparts in the current
+electronic edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. His conclusion? "Wikipedia's
+advantage is in having more, longer, and more current entries. If it weren't
+for the Microsoft-case entry, Wikipedia would have been the winner hands down.
+Britannica's advantage is in having lower variance in the quality of its
+entries." [fn: see http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/archives/000675.html for
+more] Not a complete win for Wikipedia, but hardly "outrageous," "repugnant"
+and "dangerous." (Poor Fasoldt -- his idiotic hyperbole will surely haunt him
+through the whole of his career -- I mean, "repugnant?!")
+There has been one very damning and even frightening indictment of Wikipedia,
+which came from Ethan Zuckerman, the founder of the GeekCorps group, which
+sends volunteers to poor countries to help establish Internet Service Providers
+and do other good works through technology.
+Zuckerman, a Harvard Berkman Center Fellow, is concerned with the "systemic
+bias" in a collaborative encyclopedia whose contributors must be conversant
+with technology and in possession of same in order to improve on the work
+there. Zuckerman reasonably observes that Internet users skew towards wealth,
+residence in the world's richest countries, and a technological bent. This
+means that the Wikipedia, too, is skewed to subjects of interest to that group
+-- subjects where that group already has expertise and interest.
+The result is tragicomical. The entry on the Congo Civil War, the largest
+military conflict the world has seen since WWII, which has claimed over three
+million lives, has only a fraction of the verbiage devoted to the War of the
+Ents, a fictional war fought between sentient trees in JRR Tolkien's *{Lord of
+the Rings}*.
+Zuckerman issued a public call to arms to rectify this, challenging Wikipedia
+contributors to seek out information on subjects like Africa's military
+conflicts, nursing and agriculture and write these subjects up in the same
+loving detail given over to science fiction novels and contemporary youth
+culture. His call has been answered well. What remains is to infiltrate the
+Wikipedia into the academe so that term papers, Masters and Doctoral theses on
+these subjects find themselves in whole or in part on the Wikipedia. [fn See
+http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Xed/CROSSBOW for more on this]
+But if Wikipedia is authoritative, how does it get there? What alchemy turns
+the maunderings of "mouth-breathers with modems" into valid, useful
+encyclopedia entries?
+It all comes down to the way that disputes are deliberated over and resolved.
+Take the entry on Israel. At one point, it characterized Israel as a
+beleaguered state set upon by terrorists who would drive its citizens into the
+sea. Not long after, the entry was deleted holus-bolus and replaced with one
+that described Israel as an illegal state practicing Apartheid on an oppressed
+ethnic minority.
+Back and forth the editors went, each overwriting the other's with his or her
+own doctrine. But eventually, one of them blinked. An editor moderated the
+doctrine just a little, conceding a single point to the other. And the other
+responded in kind. In this way, turn by turn, all those with a strong opinion
+on the matter negotiated a kind of Truth, a collection of statements that
+everyone could agree represented as neutral a depiction of Israel as was likely
+to emerge. Whereupon, the joint authors of this marvelous document joined
+forces and fought back to back to resist the revisions of other doctrinaires
+who came later, preserving their hard-won peace. [fn: This process was just
+repeated in microcosm in the Wikipedia entry on the author of this paper, which
+was replaced by a rather disparaging and untrue entry that characterized his
+books as critical and commercial failures -- there ensued several editorial
+volleys, culminating in an uneasy peace that couches the anonymous detractor's
+skepticism in context and qualifiers that make it clear what the facts are and
+what is speculation]
+What's most fascinating about these entries isn't their "final" text as
+currently present on Wikipedia. It is the history page for each, blow-by-blow
+revision lists that make it utterly transparent where the bodies were buried on
+the way to arriving at whatever Truth has emerged. This is a neat solution to
+the problem of authority -- if you want to know what the fully rounded view of
+opinions on any controversial subject look like, you need only consult its
+entry's history page for a blistering eyeful of thorough debate on the subject.
+And here, finally, is the answer to the "Mostly harmless" problem. Ford's
+editor can trim his verbiage to two words, but they need not stay there --
+Arthur, or any other user of the Guide as we know it today [fn: that is, in the
+era where we understand enough about technology to know the difference between
+a microprocessor and a hard-drive] can revert to Ford's glorious and exhaustive
+Think of it: a Guide without space restrictions and without editors, where any
+Vogon can publish to his heart's content.
+1~ Warhol is Turning in His Grave
+(Originally published in The Guardian, November 13, 2007) ~#
+The excellent little programmer book for the National Portrait Gallery's
+current show POPARTPORTRAITS has a lot to say about the pictures hung on the
+walls, about the diverse source material the artists drew from in producing
+their provocative works. They cut up magazines, copied comic books, drew in
+trademarked cartoon characters like Minnie Mouse, reproduced covers from
+*{Time}* magazine, made ironic use of the cartoon figure of Charles Atlas,
+painted over an iconic photo of James Dean or Elvis Presley -- and that's just
+in the first room of seven.
+The programmer book describes the aesthetic experience of seeing these
+repositioned icons of culture high and low, the art created by the celebrated
+artists Poons, Rauschenberg, Warhol, et al by nicking the work of others,
+without permission, and remaking it to make statements and evoke emotions never
+countenanced by the original creators.
+However, the book does not say a word about copyright. Can you blame it? A
+treatise on the way that copyright and trademark were -- *{had to be}* --
+trammeled to make these works could fill volumes. Reading the programmer book,
+you have to assume that the curators' only message about copyright is that
+where free expression is concerned, the rights of the creators of the original
+source material appropriated by the pop school take a back seat.
+There is, however, another message about copyright in the National Portrait
+Gallery: it's implicit in the "No Photography" signs prominently placed
+throughout the halls, including one right by the entrance of the
+POPARTPORTRAITS exhibition. This isn't intended to protect the works from the
+depredations of camera-flashes (it would read NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY if this were
+so). No, the ban on pictures is in place to safeguard the copyright in the
+works hung on the walls -- a fact that every gallery staffer I spoke to
+instantly affirmed when I asked about the policy.
+Indeed, it seems that every square centimeter of the Portrait Gallery is under
+some form of copyright. I wasn't even allowed to photograph the NO PHOTOGRAPHS
+sign. A museum staffer explained that she'd been told that the typography and
+layout of the NO PHOTOGRAPHS legend was, itself, copyrighted. If this is true,
+then presumably, the same rules would prevent anyone from taking any pictures
+in any public place -- unless you could somehow contrive to get a shot of
+Leicester Square without any writing, logos, architectural facades, or images
+in it. I doubt Warhol could have done it.
+What's the message of the show, then? Is it a celebration of remix culture,
+reveling in the endless possibilities opened up by appropriating and re-using
+without permission?
+Or is it the epitaph on the tombstone of the 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
+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?
+Perhaps, just perhaps, it's actually a Dadaist show *{masquerading}* as a pop
+art show! Perhaps the point is to titillate us with the delicious irony of
+celebrating copyright infringement while simultaneously taking the view that
+even the NO PHOTOGRAPHY sign is a form of property, not to be reproduced
+without the permission that can never be had.
+1~ The Future of Ignoring Things
+(Originally published on InformationWeek's Internet Evolution, October 3, 2007)
+For decades, computers have been helping us to remember, but now it's time for
+them to help us to ignore.
+Take email: Endless engineer-hours are poured into stopping spam, but virtually
+no attention is paid to our interaction with our non-spam messages. Our mailer
+may strive to learn from our ratings what is and is not spam, but it expends
+practically no effort on figuring out which of the non-spam emails are
+important and which ones can be safely ignored, dropped into archival folders,
+or deleted unread.
+For example, I'm forever getting cc'd on busy threads by well-meaning
+colleagues who want to loop me in on some discussion in which I have little
+interest. Maybe the initial group invitation to a dinner (that I'll be out of
+town for) was something I needed to see, but now that I've declined, I really
+don't need to read the 300+ messages that follow debating the best place to
+I could write a mail-rule to ignore the thread, of course. But mail-rule
+editors are clunky, and once your rule-list grows very long, it becomes
+increasingly unmanageable. Mail-rules are where bookmarks were before the
+bookmark site del.icio.us showed up -- built for people who might want to
+ensure that messages from the boss show up in red, but not intended to be used
+as a gigantic storehouse of a million filters, a crude means for telling the
+computers what we don't want to see.
+Rael Dornfest, the former chairman of the O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference and
+founder of the startup IWantSandy, once proposed an "ignore thread" feature for
+mailers: Flag a thread as uninteresting, and your mailer will start to hide
+messages with that subject-line or thread-ID for a week, unless those messages
+contain your name. The problem is that threads mutate. Last week's dinner plans
+become this week's discussion of next year's group holiday. If the thread is
+still going after a week, the messages flow back into your inbox -- and a
+single click takes you back through all the messages you missed.
+We need a million measures like this, adaptive systems that create a gray zone
+between "delete on sight" and "show this to me right away."
+RSS readers are a great way to keep up with the torrent of new items posted on
+high-turnover sites like Digg, but they're even better at keeping up with sites
+that are sporadic, like your friend's brilliant journal that she only updates
+twice a year. But RSS readers don't distinguish between the rare and miraculous
+appearance of a new item in an occasional journal and the latest click-fodder
+from Slashdot. They don't even sort your RSS feeds according to the sites that
+you click-through the most.
+There was a time when I could read the whole of Usenet -- not just because I
+was a student looking for an excuse to avoid my assignments, but because Usenet
+was once tractable, readable by a single determined person. Today, I can't even
+keep up with a single high-traffic message-board. I can't read all my email. I
+can't read every item posted to every site I like. I certainly can't plough
+through the entire edit-history of every Wikipedia entry I read. I've come to
+grips with this -- with acquiring information on a probabilistic basis, instead
+of the old, deterministic, cover-to-cover approach I learned in the offline
+It's as though there's a cognitive style built into TCP/IP. Just as the network
+only does best-effort delivery of packets, not worrying so much about the bits
+that fall on the floor, TCP/IP users also do best-effort sweeps of the
+Internet, focusing on learning from the good stuff they find, rather than
+lamenting the stuff they don't have time to see.
+The network won't ever become more tractable. There will never be fewer things
+vying for our online attention. The only answer is better ways and new
+technology to ignore stuff -- a field that's just being born, with plenty of
+room to grow.
+1~ Facebook's Faceplant
+(Originally published as "How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook," in
+InformationWeek, November 26, 2007) ~#
+Facebook's "platform" strategy has sparked 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 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 steady stream of emails you get from Facebook:
+"So-and-so has sent you a message." Yeah, what is it? Facebook isn't telling --
+you have to visit Facebook to find out, generate a banner impression, and read
+and write your messages using the halt-and-lame Facebook interface, which lags
+even end-of-lifed email clients like Eudora for composing, reading, filtering,
+archiving and searching. Emails from Facebook aren't helpful messages, they're
+eyeball bait, intended to send you off to the Facebook site, only to discover
+that Fred wrote "Hi again!" on your "wall." Like other "social" apps (cough
+eVite cough), Facebook has all the social graces of a nose-picking, hyperactive
+six-year-old, standing at the threshold of your attention and chanting, "I know
+something, I know something, I know something, won't tell you what it is!"
+If there was any doubt about Facebook's lack of qualification to displace the
+Internet with a benevolent dictatorship/walled garden, it was removed when
+Facebook unveiled its new advertising campaign. Now, Facebook will allow its
+advertisers use the profile pictures of Facebook users to advertise their
+products, without permission or compensation. Even if you're the kind of person
+who likes the sound of a "benevolent dictatorship," this clearly isn't one.
+Many of my colleagues wonder if Facebook can be redeemed by opening up the
+platform, letting anyone write any app for the service, easily exporting and
+importing their data, and so on (this is the kind of thing Google is doing with
+its OpenSocial Alliance). Perhaps if Facebook takes on some of the
+characteristics that made the Web work -- openness, decentralization,
+standardization -- it will become like the Web itself, but with the added pixie
+dust of "social," the indefinable characteristic that makes Facebook into pure
+crack for a significant proportion of Internet users.
+The debate about redeeming Facebook starts from the assumption that Facebook is
+snowballing toward critical mass, the point at which it begins to define "the
+Internet" for a large slice of the world's netizens, growing steadily every
+day. But I think that this is far from a sure thing. Sure, networks generally
+follow Metcalfe's Law: "the value of a telecommunications network is
+proportional to the square of the number of users of the system." This law is
+best understood through the analogy of the fax machine: a world with one fax
+machine has no use for faxes, but every time you add a fax, you square the
+number of possible send/receive combinations (Alice can fax Bob or Carol or
+Don; Bob can fax Alice, Carol and Don; Carol can fax Alice, Bob and Don, etc).
+But Metcalfe's law presumes that creating more communications pathways
+increases the value of the system, and that's not always true (see Brook's Law:
+"Adding manpower to a late softer project makes it later").
+Having watched the rise and fall of SixDegrees, Friendster, and the many other
+proto-hominids that make up the evolutionary chain leading to Facebook,
+MySpace, et al, I'm inclined to think that these systems are subject to a
+Brook's-law parallel: "Adding more users to a social network increases the
+probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance." Perhaps we
+can call this "boyd's Law" [NOTE TO EDITOR: "boyd" is always lower-case] for
+danah [TO EDITOR: "danah" too!] boyd, the social scientist who has studied many
+of these networks from the inside as a keen-eyed net-anthropologist and who has
+described the many ways in which social software does violence to sociability
+in a series of sharp papers.
+Here's one of boyd's examples, a true story: a young woman, an elementary
+school teacher, joins Friendster after some of her Burning Man buddies send her
+an invite. All is well until her students sign up and notice that all the
+friends in her profile are sunburnt, drug-addled techno-pagans whose own
+profiles are adorned with digital photos of their painted genitals flapping
+over the Playa. The teacher inveigles her friends to clean up their profiles,
+and all is well again until her boss, the school principal, signs up to the
+service and demands to be added to her friends list. The fact that she doesn't
+like her boss doesn't really matter: in the social world of Friendster and its
+progeny, it's perfectly valid to demand to be "friended" in an explicit fashion
+that most of us left behind in the fourth grade. Now that her boss is on her
+friends list, our teacher-friend's buddies naturally assume that she is one of
+the tribe and begin to send her lascivious Friendster-grams, inviting her to
+all sorts of dirty funtimes.
+In the real world, we don't articulate our social networks. Imagine how creepy
+it would be to wander into a co-worker's cubicle and discover the wall covered
+with tiny photos of everyone in the office, ranked by "friend" and "foe," with
+the top eight friends elevated to a small shrine decorated with Post-It roses
+and hearts. And yet, there's an undeniable attraction to corralling all your
+friends and friendly acquaintances, charting them and their relationship to
+you. Maybe it's evolutionary, some quirk of the neocortex dating from our
+evolution into social animals who gained advantage by dividing up the work of
+survival but acquired the tricky job of watching all the other monkeys so as to
+be sure that everyone was pulling their weight and not, e.g., napping in the
+treetops instead of watching for predators, emerging only to eat the fruit the
+rest of us have foraged.
+Keeping track of our social relationships is a serious piece of work that runs
+a heavy cognitive load. It's natural to seek out some neural prosthesis for
+assistance in this chore. My fiancee once proposed a "social scheduling"
+application that would watch your phone and email and IM to figure out who your
+pals were and give you a little alert if too much time passed without your
+reaching out to say hello and keep the coals of your relationship aglow. By the
+time you've reached your forties, chances are you're out-of-touch with more
+friends than you're in-touch with, old summer-camp chums, high-school mates,
+ex-spouses and their families, former co-workers, college roomies, dot-com
+veterans... Getting all those people back into your life is a full-time job and
+then some.
+You'd think that Facebook would be the perfect tool for handling all this. It's
+not. For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there's a guy
+who beat me up 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 kind of
+sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I'd cross the street to avoid but who now
+wants to know, "Am I your friend?" yes or no, this instant, please.
+It's not just Facebook and it's not just me. Every "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 loving arms; from MySpace to Facebook. It's
+socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list -- but
+*{removing}* someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war.
+The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on
+it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some
+invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to
+someone who'll groan and wonder why we're dumb enough to think that we're
+That's why I don't worry about Facebook taking over the net. As more users
+flock to it, the chances that the person who precipitates your exodus will find
+you increases. Once that happens, poof, away you go -- and Facebook joins
+SixDegrees, Friendster and their pals on the scrapheap of net.history.
+1~ The Future of Internet Immune Systems
+(Originally published on InformationWeek's Internet Evolution, November 19,
+2007) ~#
+Bunhill Cemetery is just down the road from my flat in London. It’s a handsome
+old boneyard, a former plague pit (“Bone hill” -- as in, there are so many
+bones under there that the ground is actually kind of humped up into a hill).
+There are plenty of luminaries buried there -- John “Pilgrim’s Progress”
+Bunyan, William Blake, Daniel Defoe, and assorted Cromwells. But my favorite
+tomb is that of Thomas Bayes, the 18th-century statistician for whom Bayesian
+filtering is named.
+Bayesian filtering is plenty useful. Here’s a simple example of how you might
+use a Bayesian filter. First, get a giant load of non-spam emails and feed them
+into a Bayesian program that counts how many times each word in their
+vocabulary appears, producing a statistical breakdown of the word-frequency in
+good emails.
+Then, point the filter at a giant load of spam (if you’re having a hard time
+getting a hold of one, I have plenty to spare), and count the words in it. Now,
+for each new message that arrives in your inbox, have the filter count the
+relative word-frequencies and make a statistical prediction about whether the
+new message is spam or not (there are plenty of wrinkles in this formula, but
+this is the general idea).
+The beauty of this approach is that you needn’t dream up “The Big Exhaustive
+List of Words and Phrases That Indicate a Message Is/Is Not Spam.” The filter
+naively calculates a statistical fingerprint for spam and not-spam, and checks
+the new messages against them.
+This approach -- and similar ones -- are evolving into an immune system for the
+Internet, and like all immune systems, a little bit goes a long way, and too
+much makes you break out in hives.
+ISPs are loading up their network centers with intrusion detection systems and
+tripwires that are supposed to stop attacks before they happen. For example,
+there’s the filter at the hotel I once stayed at in Jacksonville, Fla. Five
+minutes after I logged in, the network locked me out again. After an hour on
+the phone with tech support, it transpired that the network had noticed that
+the videogame I was playing systematically polled the other hosts on the
+network to check if they were running servers that I could join and play on.
+The network decided that this was a malicious port-scan and that it had better
+kick me off before I did anything naughty.
+It only took five minutes for the software to lock me out, but it took well
+over an hour to find someone in tech support who understood what had happened
+and could reset the router so that I could get back online.
+And right there is an example of the autoimmune disorder. Our network defenses
+are automated, instantaneous, and sweeping. But our fallback and oversight
+systems are slow, understaffed, and unresponsive. It takes a millionth of a
+second for the Transportation Security Administration’s body-cavity-search
+roulette wheel to decide that you’re a potential terrorist and stick you on a
+no-fly list, but getting un-Tuttle-Buttled is a nightmarish, months-long
+procedure that makes Orwell look like an optimist.
+The tripwire that locks you out was fired-and-forgotten two years ago by an
+anonymous sysadmin with root access on the whole network. The outsourced
+help-desk schlub who unlocks your account can’t even spell "tripwire." The same
+goes for the algorithm that cut off your credit card because you got on an
+airplane to a different part of the world and then had the audacity to spend
+your money. (I’ve resigned myself to spending $50 on long-distance calls with
+Citibank every time I cross a border if I want to use my debit card while
+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 text-files.
+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 terrible asymmetry in a world where defensive
+takedowns are automatic, but correcting mistaken takedowns is done by hand.
+1~ All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites
+(Paper delivered at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, San Diego,
+California, 16 March 2005) ~#
+AOL hates spam. AOL could eliminate nearly 100 percent of its subscribers' spam
+with one easy change: it could simply shut off its internet gateway. Then, as
+of yore, the only email an AOL subscriber could receive would come from another
+AOL subscriber. If an AOL subscriber sent a spam to another AOL subscriber and
+AOL found out about it, they could terminate the spammer's account. Spam costs
+AOL millions, and represents a substantial disincentive for AOL customers to
+remain with the service, and yet AOL chooses to permit virtually anyone who can
+connect to the Internet, anywhere in the world, to send email to its customers,
+with any software at all.
+Email is a sloppy, complicated ecosystem. It has organisms of sufficient
+diversity and sheer number as to beggar the imagination: thousands of SMTP
+agents, millions of mail-servers, hundreds of millions of users. That richness
+and diversity lets all kinds of innovative stuff happen: if you go to
+nytimes.com and "send a story to a friend," the NYT can convincingly spoof your
+return address on the email it sends to your friend, so that it appears that
+the email originated on your computer. Also: a spammer can harvest your email
+and use it as a fake return address on the spam he sends to your friend.
+Sysadmins have server processes that send them mail to secret pager-addresses
+when something goes wrong, and GPLed mailing-list software gets used by
+spammers and people running high-volume mailing lists alike.
+You could stop spam by simplifying email: centralize functions like identity
+verification, limit the number of authorized mail agents and refuse service to
+unauthorized agents, even set up tollbooths where small sums of money are
+collected for every email, ensuring that sending ten million messages was too
+expensive to contemplate without a damned high expectation of return on
+investment. If you did all these things, you'd solve spam.
+By breaking email.
+Small server processes that mail a logfile to five sysadmins every hour just in
+case would be prohibitively expensive. Convincing the soviet that your
+bulk-mailer was only useful to legit mailing lists and not spammers could take
+months, and there's no guarantee that it would get their stamp of approval at
+all. With verified identity, the NYTimes couldn't impersonate you when it
+forwarded stories on your behalf -- and Chinese dissidents couldn't send out
+their samizdata via disposable gmail accounts.
+An email system that can be controlled is an email system without complexity.
+Complex ecosystems are influenced, not controlled.
+The Hollywood studios are conniving to create a global network of regulatory
+mandates over entertainment devices. Here they call it the Broadcast Flag; in
+Europe, Asia, Australia and Latinamerica it's called DVB Copy Protection
+Content Management. These systems purport to solve the problem of
+indiscriminate redistribution of broadcast programming via the Internet, but
+their answer to the problem, such as it is, is to require that everyone who
+wants to build a device that touches video has to first get permission.
+If you want to make a TV, a screen, a video-card, a high-speed bus, an
+analog-to-digital converter, a tuner card, a DVD burner -- any tool that you
+hope to be lawful for use in connection with digital TV signals -- you'll have
+to go on bended knee to get permission to deploy it. You'll have to convince
+FCC bureaucrats or a panel of Hollywood companies and their sellout IT and
+consumer electronics toadies that the thing you're going to bring to market
+will not disrupt their business models.
+That's how DVD works today: if you want to make a DVD player, you need to ask
+permission from a shadowy organization called the DVD-CCA. They don't give
+permission if you plan on adding new features -- that's why they're suing
+Kaleidascape for building a DVD jukebox that can play back your movies from a
+hard-drive archive instead of the original discs.
+CD has a rich ecosystem, filled with parasites -- entrepreneurial organisms
+that move to fill every available niche. If you spent a thousand bucks on CDs
+ten years ago, the ecosystem for CDs would reward you handsomely. In the
+intervening decade, parasites who have found an opportunity to suck value out
+of the products on offer from the labels and the dupe houses by offering you
+the tools to convert your CDs to ring-tones, karaoke, MP3s, MP3s on iPods and
+other players, MP3s on CDs that hold a thousand percent more music -- and on
+and on.
+DVDs live in a simpler, slower ecosystem, like a terrarium in a bottle where a
+million species have been pared away to a manageable handful. DVDs pay no such
+dividend. A thousand dollars' worth of ten-year old DVDs are good for just what
+they were good for ten years ago: watching. You can't put your kid into her
+favorite cartoon, you can't downsample the video to something that plays on
+your phone, and you certainly can't lawfully make a hard-drive-based jukebox
+from your discs.
+The yearning for simple ecosystems is endemic among people who want to "fix"
+some problem of bad actors on the networks.
+Take interoperability: you might sell me a database in the expectation that
+I'll only communicate with it using your authorized database agents. That way
+you can charge vendors a license fee in exchange for permission to make a
+client, and you can ensure that the clients are well-behaved and don't trigger
+any of your nasty bugs.
+But you can't meaningfully enforce that. EDS and other titanic software
+companies earn their bread and butter by producing 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 compatibility layer through systems provided
+by two different vendors. These companies produce software that lies --
+parasite software that fills niches left behind by other organisms, sometimes
+to those organisms' detriment.
+So we have "Trusted Computing," a system that's supposed to let software detect
+other 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 its
+glorious anarchy of tools and systems and replacing it with neat rows of tame
+and planted trees, each one approved by The Man as safe for use with his
+For Trusted Computing to accomplish this, everyone who makes a video-card,
+keyboard, or logic-board must receive a key from some certifying body that will
+see to it that the key is stored in a way that prevents end-users from
+extracting it and using it to fake signatures.
+But if one keyboard vendor doesn't store his keys securely, the system will be
+useless for fighting keyloggers. If one video-card vendor lets a key leak, the
+system will be no good for stopping screenlogging. If one logic-board vendor
+lets a key slip, the whole thing goes out the window. That's how DVD DRM got
+hacked: one vendor, Xing, left its keys in a place where users could get at
+them, and then anyone could break the DRM on any DVD.
+Not only is the Trusted Computing advocates' goal -- producing a simpler
+software ecosystem -- wrongheaded, but the methodology is doomed. Fly-by-night
+keyboard vendors in distant free trade zones just won't be 100 percent
+compliant, and Trusted Computing requires no less than perfect compliance.
+The whole of DRM is a macrocosm for Trusted Computing. The DVB Copy Protection
+system relies on a set of rules for translating every one of its restriction
+states -- such as "copy once" and "copy never" -- to states in other DRM
+systems that are licensed to receive its output. That means that they're
+signing up to review, approve and write special rules for every single
+entertainment technology now invented and every technology that will be
+invented in the future.
+Madness: shrinking the ecosystem of everything you can plug into your TV down
+to the subset that these self-appointed arbiters of technology approve is a
+recipe for turning the electronics, IT and telecoms industries into something
+as small and unimportant as Hollywood. Hollywood -- which is a tenth the size
+of IT, itself a tenth the size of telecoms.
+In Hollywood, your ability to make a movie depends on the approval of a few
+power-brokers who have signing authority over the two-hundred-million-dollar
+budgets for making films. As far as Hollywood is concerned, this is a feature,
+not a bug. Two weeks ago, I heard the VP of Technology for Warners give a
+presentation in Dublin on the need to adopt DRM for digital TV, and his
+money-shot, his big convincer of a slide went like this:
+"With advances in processing power, storage capacity and broadband access...
+Heaven forfend.
+Simple ecosystems are the goal of proceedings like CARP, the panel that set out
+the ruinously high royalties for webcasters. The recording industry set the
+rates as high as they did so that the teeming millions of webcasters would be
+rendered economically extinct, leaving behind a tiny handful of giant companies
+that could be negotiated with around a board room table, rather than dealt with
+by blanket legislation.
+The razing of the rainforest has a cost. It's harder to send a legitimate email
+today than it ever was -- thanks to a world of closed SMTP relays. The cries
+for a mail-server monoculture grow more shrill with every passing moment. Just
+last week, it was a call for every mail-administrator to ban the "vacation"
+program that sends out automatic responses informing senders that the recipient
+is away from email for a few days, because mailboxes that run vacation can
+cause "spam blowback" where accounts send their vacation notices to the hapless
+individuals whose email addresses the spammers have substituted on the email's
+Reply-To line.
+And yet there is more spam than there ever was. All the costs we've paid for
+fighting spam have added up to no benefit: the network is still overrun and
+sometimes even overwhelmed by spam. We've let the network's neutrality and
+diversity be compromised, without receiving the promised benefit of spam-free
+Likewise, DRM has exacted a punishing toll wherever it has come into play,
+costing us innovation, free speech, research and the public's rights in
+copyright. And likewise, DRM has not stopped infringement: today, infringement
+is more widespread than ever. All those costs borne by society in the name of
+protecting artists and stopping infringement, and not a penny put into an
+artist's pocket, not a single DRM-restricted file that can't be downloaded for
+free and without encumbrance from a P2P network.
+Everywhere we look, we find people who should know better calling for a
+parasite-free Internet. Science fiction writers are supposed to be forward
+looking, but they're wasting their time demanding that Amazon and Google make
+it harder to piece together whole books from the page-previews one can get via
+the look-inside-the-book programs. They're even cooking up programs to spoof
+deliberately corrupted ebooks into the P2P networks, presumably to assure the
+few readers the field has left that reading science fiction is a mug's game.
+The amazing thing about the failure of parasite-elimination programs is that
+their proponents have concluded that the problem is that they haven't tried
+hard enough -- with just a few more species eliminated, a few more policies
+imposed, paradise will spring into being. Their answer to an unsuccessful
+strategy for fixing the Internet is to try the same strategy, only moreso --
+only fill those niches in the ecology that you can sanction. Hunt and kill more
+parasites, no matter what the cost.
+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.
+The long tail -- Chris Anderson's name for the 95% of media that isn't top
+sellers, but which, in aggregate, accounts for more than half the money on the
+table for media vendors -- is the tail of bottom-feeders and improbable
+denizens of the ocean's thermal vents. We're unexpected guests at the dinner
+table and we have the nerve to demand a full helping.
+Your ideas are cool and you should go and make them real, even if they demand
+that the kind of ecological diversity that seems to be disappearing around us.
+You may succeed -- provided that your plans don't call for a simple ecosystem
+where only you get to provide value and no one else gets to play.
+(Originally published as "Shrinkwrap Licenses: An Epidemic Of Lawsuits Waiting
+To Happen" in InformationWeek, February 3, 2007) ~#
+*{READ CAREFULLY. By reading this article, you agree, on behalf of your
+employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and
+all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap,
+clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and
+acceptable use policies ("BOGUS AGREEMENTS") that I have entered into with your
+employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without
+prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you
+have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your
+READ CAREFULLY -- all in caps, and what it means is, "IGNORE THIS." That's
+because the small print in the clickwrap, shrinkwrap, browsewrap and other
+non-negotiated agreements is both immutable and outrageous.
+Why read the "agreement" if you know that:
+1) No sane person would agree to its text, and
+2) Even if you disagree, no one will negotiate a better agreement with you?
+We seem to have sunk to a kind of playground system of forming contracts. There
+are those who will tell you that you can form a binding agreement just by
+following a link, stepping into a store, buying a product, or receiving an
+email. By standing there, shaking your head, shouting "NO NO NO I DO NOT
+AGREE," you agree to let me come over to your house, clean out your fridge,
+wear your underwear and make some long-distance calls.
+If you buy a downloadable movie from Amazon Unbox, you agree to let them
+install spyware on your computer, delete any file they don't like on your
+hard-drive, and cancel your viewing privileges for any reason. Of course, it
+goes without saying that Amazon reserves the right to modify the agreement at
+any time.
+The worst offenders are people who sell you movies and music. They're a close
+second to people who sell you software, or provide services over the Internet.
+There's a rubric to this -- you're getting a discount in exchange for signing
+onto an abusive agreement, but just try and find the software that *{doesn't}*
+come with one of these "agreements" -- at any price.
+For example, Vista, Microsoft's new operating system, comes in a rainbow of
+flavors varying in price from $99 to $399, but all of them come with the same
+crummy terms of service, which state that "you may not work around any
+technical limitations in the software," and that Windows Defender, the bundled
+anti-malware program, can delete any program from your hard drive that
+Microsoft doesn't like, even if it breaks your computer.
+It's bad enough when this stuff comes to us through deliberate malice, but it
+seems that bogus agreements can spread almost without human intervention.
+Google any obnoxious term or phrase from a EULA, and you'll find that the same
+phrase appears in a dozens -- perhaps thousands -- of EULAs around the
+Internet. Like snippets of DNA being passed from one virus to another as they
+infect the world's corporations in a pandemic of idiocy, terms of service are
+semi-autonomous entities.
+Indeed, when rocker Billy Bragg read the fine print on the MySpace user
+agreement, he discovered that it appeared that site owner Rupert Murdoch was
+laying claim to copyrights in every song uploaded to the site, in a silent,
+sinister land-grab that turned the media baron into the world's most prolific
+and indiscriminate hoarder of garage-band tunes.
+However, the EULA that got Bragg upset wasn't a Murdoch innovation -- it dates
+back to the earliest days of the service. It seems to have been posted at a
+time when the garage entrepreneurs who built MySpace were in no position to
+hire pricey counsel -- something borne out by the fact that the old MySpace
+EULA appears nearly verbatim on many other services around the Internet. It's
+not going out very far on a limb to speculate that MySpace's founders merely
+copied a EULA they found somewhere else, without even reading it, and that when
+Murdoch's due diligence attorneys were preparing to give these lucky fellows
+$600,000,000, that they couldn't be bothered to read the terms of service
+In their defense, EULAese is so mind-numbingly boring that it's a kind of
+torture to read these things. You can hardly blame them.
+But it does raise the question -- why are we playing host to these infectious
+agents? If they're not read by customers *{or}* companies, why bother with
+If you wanted to really be careful about this stuff, you'd prohibit every
+employee at your office from clicking on any link, installing any program,
+creating accounts, signing for parcels -- even doing a run to Best Buy for some
+CD blanks, have you *{seen}* the fine-print on their credit-card slips? After
+all, these people are entering into "agreements" on behalf of their employer --
+agreements to allow spyware onto your network, to not "work around any
+technical limitations in their software," to let malicious software delete
+arbitrary files from their systems.
+So far, very few of us have been really bitten in the ass by EULAs, but that's
+because EULAs are generally associated with companies who have products or
+services they're hoping you'll use, and enforcing their EULAs could cost them
+But that was the theory with patents, too. So long as everyone with a huge
+portfolio of unexamined, overlapping, generous patents was competing with
+similarly situated manufacturers, there was a mutually assured destruction -- a
+kind of detente represented by cross-licensing deals for patent portfolios.
+But the rise of the patent troll changed all that. Patent trolls don't make
+products. They make 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 little guys that can be used to fund
+more serious campaigns against larger organizations. Since there are no
+products to disrupt with a countersuit, there's no mutually assured
+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 strategy.
+More importantly, these "agreements" make a mockery of the law and of the very
+*{idea}* of forming agreements. Civilization starts with the idea of a real
+agreement -- for example, "We crap *{here}* and we sleep *{there}*, OK?" -- and
+if we reduce the noble agreement to a schoolyard game of no-takebacks, we erode
+the bedrock of civilization itself.
+1~ World of Democracycraft
+(Originally published as "Why Online Games Are Dictatorships," InformationWeek,
+April 16, 2007) ~#
+Can you be a citizen of a virtual world? That's the question that I keep asking
+myself, whenever anyone tells me about the wonder of multiplayer online games,
+especially Second Life, the virtual world that is more creative playground than
+These worlds invite us to take up residence in them, to invest time (and
+sometimes money) in them. Second Life encourages you to make stuff using their
+scripting engine and sell it in the game. You Own Your Own Mods -- it's the
+rallying cry of the new generation of virtual worlds, an updated version of the
+old BBS adage from the WELL: You Own Your Own Words.
+I spend a lot of time in Disney parks. I even own a share of Disney stock. But
+I don't flatter myself that I'm a citizen of Disney World. I know that when I
+go to Orlando, the Mouse is going to fingerprint me and search my bags, because
+the Fourth Amendment isn't a "Disney value."
+Disney even has its own virtual currency, symbolic tokens called Disney Dollars
+that you can spend or exchange at any Disney park. I'm reasonably confident
+that if Disney refused to turn my Mickeybucks back into US Treasury
+Department-issue greenbacks that I could make life unpleasant for them in a
+court of law.
+But is the same true of a game? The money in your real-world bank-account and
+in your in-game bank-account is really just a pointer in a database. But if the
+bank moves the pointer around arbitrarily (depositing a billion dollars in your
+account, or wiping you out), they face a regulator. If a game wants to wipe you
+out, well, you probably agreed to let them do that when you signed up.
+Can you amass wealth in such a world? Well, sure. There are rich people in
+dictatorships all over the world. Stalin's favorites had great big dachas and
+drove fancy cars. You don't need democratic rights to get rich.
+But you *{do}* need democratic freedoms to *{stay}* rich. In-world wealth is
+like a Stalin-era dacha, or the diamond fortunes of Apartheid South Africa:
+valuable, even portable (to a limited extent), but not really *{yours}*, not in
+any stable, long-term sense.
+Here are some examples of the difference between being a citizen and a
+In January, 2006 a World of Warcraft moderator shut down an advertisement for a
+"GBLT-friendly" guild. This was a virtual club that players could join, whose
+mission was to be "friendly" to "Gay/Bi/Lesbian/Transgendered" players. The WoW
+moderator -- and Blizzard management -- cited a bizarre reason for the
+"While we appreciate and understand your point of view, we do feel that the
+advertisement of a 'GLBT friendly' guild is very likely to result in harassment
+for players that may not have existed otherwise. If you will look at our
+policy, you will notice the suggested penalty for violating the Sexual
+Orientation Harassment Policy is to 'be temporarily suspended from the game.'
+However, as there was clearly no malicious intent on your part, this penalty
+was reduced to a warning."
+Sara Andrews, the guild's creator, made a stink and embarrassed Blizzard (the
+game's parent company) into reversing the decision.
+In 2004, a player in the MMO EVE Online declared that the game's creators had
+stacked the deck against him, called EVE, "a poorly designed game which rewards
+the greedy and violent, and punishes the hardworking and honest." He was upset
+over a change in the game dynamics which made it easier to play a pirate and
+harder to play a merchant.
+The player, "Dentara Rask," wrote those words in the preamble to a tell-all
+memoir detailing an elaborate Ponzi scheme that he and an accomplice had
+perpetrated in EVE. The two of them had bilked EVE's merchants out of a
+substantial fraction of the game's total GDP and then resigned their accounts.
+The objective was to punish the game's owners for their gameplay decisions by
+crashing the game's economy.
+In both of these instances, players -- residents of virtual worlds -- resolved
+their conflicts with game management through customer activism. That works in
+the real world, too, but when it fails, we have the rule of law. We can sue. We
+can elect new leaders. When all else fails, we can withdraw all our money from
+the bank, sell our houses, and move to a different country.
+But in virtual worlds, these recourses are off-limits. Virtual worlds can and
+do freeze players' wealth for "cheating" (amassing gold by exploiting loopholes
+in the system), for participating in real-world gold-for-cash exchanges (eBay
+recently put an end to this practice on its service), or for violating some
+other rule. The rules of virtual worlds are embodied in EULAs, not
+Constitutions, and are always "subject to change without notice."
+So what does it mean to be "rich" in Second Life? Sure, you can have a thriving
+virtual penis business in game, one that returns a healthy sum of cash every
+month. You can even protect your profits by regularly converting them to real
+money. But if you lose an argument with Second Life's parent company, your
+business vanishes. In other worlds, the only stable in-game wealth is the
+wealth you take out of the game. Your virtual capital investments are totally
+contingent. Piss off the wrong exec at Linden Labs, Blizzard, Sony Online
+Entertainment, or Sularke and your little in-world business could disappear for
+Well, what of it? Why not just create a "democratic" game that has a
+constitution, full citizenship for players, and all the prerequisites for
+stable wealth? Such a game would be open source (so that other, interoperable
+"nations" could be established for you to emigrate to if you don't like the
+will of the majority in one game-world), and run by elected representatives who
+would instruct the administrators and programmers as to how to run the virtual
+world. In the real world, the TSA sets the rules for aviation -- in a virtual
+world, the equivalent agency would determine the physics of flight.
+The question is, would this game be any *{fun}*? Well, democracy itself is
+pretty fun -- where "fun" means "engrossing and engaging." Lots of people like
+to play the democracy game, whether by voting every four years or by moving to
+K Street and setting up a lobbying operation.
+But video games aren't quite the same thing. Gameplay conventions like
+"grinding" (repeating a task), "leveling up" (attaining a higher level of
+accomplishment), "questing" and so on are functions of artificial scarcity. The
+difference between a character with 10,000,000 gold pieces and a giant, rare,
+terrifying crossbow and a newbie player is which pointers are associated with
+each character's database entry. If the elected representatives direct that
+every player should have the shiniest armor, best space-ships, and largest
+bank-balances possible (this sounds like a pretty good election platform to
+me!), then what's left to do?
+Oh sure, in Second Life they have an interesting crafting economy based on
+creating and exchanging virtual objects. But these objects are *{also}*
+artificially scarce -- that is, the ability of these objects to propagate
+freely throughout the world is limited only by the software that supports them.
+It's basically the same economics of the music industry, but applied to every
+field of human endeavor in the entire (virtual) world.
+Fun matters. Real world currencies rise and fall based, in part, by the
+economic might of the nations that issue them. Virtual world currencies are
+more strongly tied to whether there's any reason to spend the virtual currency
+on the objects that are denominated in it. 10,000 EverQuest golds might trade
+for $100 on a day when that same sum will buy you a magic EQ sword that enables
+you to play alongside the most interesting people online, running the most fun
+missions online. But if all those players out-migrate to World of Warcraft, and
+word gets around that Warlord's Command is way more fun than anything in poor
+old creaky EverQuest, your EverQuest gold turns into Weimar Deutschemarks, a
+devalued currency that you can't even give away.
+This is where the plausibility of my democratic, co-operative, open source
+virtual world starts to break down. Elected governments can field armies, run
+schools, provide health care (I'm a Canadian), and bring acid lakes back to
+health. But I've never done anything run by a government agency that was a lot
+of *{fun}*. It's my sneaking suspicion that the only people who'd enjoy playing
+World of Democracycraft would be the people running for office there. The
+players would soon find themselves playing IRSQuest, Second Notice of Proposed
+Rulemaking Life, and Caves of 27 Stroke B.
+Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe customership is enough of a rock to build a platform of
+sustainable industry upon. It's not like entrepreneurs in Dubai have a lot of
+recourse if they get on the wrong side of the Emir; or like Singaporeans get to
+appeal the decisions of President Nathan, and there's plenty of industry there.
+And hell, maybe bureaucracies have hidden reserves of fun that have been
+lurking there, waiting for the chance to bust out and surprise us all.
+I sure hope so. These online worlds are endlessly diverting places. It'd be a
+shame if it turned out that cyberspace was a dictatorship -- benevolent or
+1~ Snitchtown
+(Originally published in Forbes.com, June 2007) ~#
+The 12-story Hotel Torni was the tallest 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 rampant surveillance, using a network of
+snitches to assemble secret files on every resident of East Berlin. They knew
+who was telling subversive jokes--but missed the fact that the Wall was about
+to come down.
+When you watch everyone, you watch no one.
+This seems to have escaped the operators of the digital surveillance
+technologies that are taking over our cities. In the brave new world of
+doorbell cams, wi-fi sniffers, RFID passes, bag searches at the subway and
+photo lookups at office security desks, universal surveillance is seen as the
+universal solution to all urban ills. But the truth is that ubiquitous cameras
+only serve to violate the social contract that makes cities work.
+The key to living in a city and peacefully co-existing as a social animal in
+tight quarters is to set a delicate balance of seeing and not seeing. You take
+care not to step on the heels of the woman in front of you on the way out of
+the subway, and you might take passing note of her most excellent handbag. But
+you don't make eye contact and exchange a nod. Or even if you do, you make sure
+that it's as fleeting as it can be.
+Checking your mirrors is good practice even in stopped traffic, but staring and
+pointing at the schmuck next to you who's got his finger so far up his nostril
+he's in danger of lobotomizing himself is bad form--worse form than picking
+your nose, even.
+I once asked a Japanese friend to explain why so many people on the Tokyo
+subway wore surgical masks. Are they extreme germophobes? Conscientious folks
+getting over a cold? Oh, yes, he said, yes, of course, but that's only the
+rubric. The real reason to wear the mask is to spare others the discomfort of
+seeing your facial expression, to make your face into a disengaged, unreadable
+blank--to spare others the discomfort of firing up their mirror neurons in
+order to model your mood based on your outward expression. To make it possible
+to see without seeing.
+There is one city dweller that doesn't respect this delicate social contract:
+the closed-circuit television camera. Ubiquitous and demanding, CCTVs don't
+have any visible owners. They ... occur. They exist in the passive voice, the
+"mistakes were made" voice: "The camera recorded you."
+They are like an emergent property of the system, of being afraid and looking
+for cheap answers. And they are everywhere: In London, residents are
+photographed more than 300 times a day.
+The irony of security cameras is that they watch, but nobody cares that they're
+looking. Junkies don't worry about CCTVs. Crazed rapists and other purveyors of
+sudden, senseless violence aren't deterred. I was mugged twice on my old block
+in San Francisco by the crack dealers on my corner, within sight of two CCTVs
+and a police station. My rental car was robbed by a junkie in a Gastown garage
+in Vancouver in sight of a CCTV.
+Three mad kids followed my friend out of the Tube in London last year and
+murdered him on his doorstep.
+Crazy, desperate, violent people don't make rational calculus in regards to
+their lives. Anyone who becomes a junkie, crack dealer, or cellphone-stealing
+stickup artist is obviously bad at making life decisions. They're not deterred
+by surveillance.
+Yet the cameras proliferate, and replace human eyes. The cops on my block in
+San Francisco stayed in their cars and let the cameras do the watching. The
+Tube station didn't have any human guards after dark, just a CCTV to record the
+fare evaders.
+Now London city councils are installing new CCTVs with loudspeakers, operated
+by remote coppers who can lean in and make a speaker bark at you, "Citizen,
+pick up your litter." "Stop leering at that woman." "Move along."
+Yeah, that'll work.
+Every day the glass-domed cameras proliferate, and the gate-guarded mentality
+of the deep suburbs threatens to invade our cities. More doorbell webcams, more
+mailbox cams, more cams in our cars.
+The city of the future is shaping up to be a neighborly Panopticon, leeched of
+the cosmopolitan ability to see, and not be seen, where every nose pick is
+noted and logged and uploaded to the Internet. You don't have anything to hide,
+sure, but there's a reason we close the door to the bathroom before we drop our
+drawers. Everyone poops, but it takes a special kind of person to want to do it
+in public.
+The trick now is to contain the creeping cameras of the law. When the city
+surveils its citizens, it legitimizes our mutual surveillance--what's the
+difference between the cops watching your every move, or the mall owners
+watching you, or you doing it to the guy next door?
+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.
+But we need to reclaim the right to record our own lives as they proceed. We
+need to reverse decisions like the one that allowed the New York Metropolitan
+Transit Authority to line subway platforms with terrorism cameras, but said
+riders may not take snapshots in the station. We need to win back the right to
+photograph our human heritage in museums and galleries, and we need to beat
+back the snitch-cams rent-a-cops use to make our cameras stay in our pockets.
+They're our cities and our institutions. And we choose the future we want to
+live in.
+1~ Hope you enjoyed it! The actual, physical object that corresponds to this
+book is superbly designed, portable, and makes a great gift:
+If you would rather make a donation, you can buy a copy of the book for a
+worthy school, library or other institution of your choosing:
+1~ About the Author
+Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is an award-winning novelist, activist, blogger
+and journalist. He is the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net), one of the
+most popular blogs in the world, and has contributed to The New York Times
+Sunday Magazine, The Economist, Forbes, Popular Science, Wired, Make,
+InformationWeek, Locus, Salon, Radar, and many other magazines, newspapers and
+His novels and short story collections include *{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 novels and short story collections are available as free downloads under
+the terms of various Creative Commons licenses.
+Doctorow is the former European Director of 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
+Annenberg 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."
+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.