Cory Doctorow lit up the room at the New America Foundation June 28. Talking to a packed roomful of passionate policy-wonk devotees, he argued that big entertainment media companies are trying to torque the future of the Internet in order to make it safe for them to use an outmoded business model. Media businesses are proposing policies that would require electronic devices to limit user choice, or create sky-high, scary punishments for copyright infringement, or both. In the service of making sure that the latest robo-flick makes the kind of return that major media expected in 1990, we’re talking about keeping people from getting, designing and improving basic services and functions of a society, such as education. “It’s a little parochial,” he argued, “to talk just about culture and creativity. The major problem is what they’re doing to every other aspect of life.”
Media companies want end-user devices to be controllable by others—as if, Doctorow said, malicious hackers couldn’t use that capacity nefariously. Surveillance, identity theft, the loss of trade secrets and more could be the consequence of making sure that no teenager downloads a free song. High punishments for copyright infringement, such as proposed “three strikes” laws that would bump somebody off their ISP for infringing uses, could cut off whole households or businesses from educational and political life and from government services.
Doctorow’s solution: “Find copy-friendly business models!” Don’t turn the Internet frontier into a police state. In Q&A Doctorow was sympathetic to potential victims of eroding markets, like photojournalists. “Technology giveth and technology taketh away,” he said. Stay away, he warned, from the temptation to turn copyright into a moral dictum rather than seeing it as a set of incentives to reward the creation of culture.