Book Review: Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow
I wish I could report that I liked this book more.
It was okay.
Doctorow enlists Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer to each write a brief introduction to his book, which he states he wrote because he has information to share about the Internet with creative types planning on earning a living off of art.
Both Gaiman and Palmer have done well in the new media with new systems of distribution. But Doctorow is quick to point out that their level of success is rare. However, there are creative types who earn various degrees of something.
He writes, "if you're setting out to earn a lot of money in the arts without regard to how Internet regulation shapes the marketplace for creativity, your chances are zero." His intention is to "equip you with the critical skills required to have a non-zero chance of makings a living as an artist today, in the world as it is. Not in the world as it was in the pre-Internet era, and not in any of the tomorrows we've been promised."
Doctorow begins with some interesting facts about copyright history, an overview more interesting than Wikipedia. He explains anti-circumvention with a broad view. He does not focus on just the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States. He refers to the WCT, which is the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty from which the DMCA was adopted for the US.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is bad. These locks don't reduce piracy and they put control into the hands of intermediaries instead of the creator or the investor. Plus, these locks install rootkits on computers, which open up the computers to viruses and spyware written by hackers who have indentified these rootkits and use them to hide their own nefarious coding.
The information he presents in the first two parts of the book seem true to his intent of helping the creative type understand how the Internet and technology associated with the Internet works.
In Part 3 of this book, though, Doctorow loses focus and writes about censorship, human rights, surveillance, and copyright. This information comes in these short bursts; an overview of these topics written with lots of interesting tidbits, but no thorough analysis.
The anecdotal asides are throughout the book. I like their content, even though some of it is depressing and scary. For instance, Doctorow shares how the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania had provided 2,300 high school students with laptops owned by the district. Unknown to the students was that the laptops had secret software on them that allowed the laptop camera to turn on and take pictures of the students without turning on the cameras green operation light.
A more positive story involves illustrator Randall Munroe who has benefitted from his comics being shared for free across the Interwebs. His humor appeals to science/techno nerds who love to buy his swag. His comic is free, but Randall makes a living selling t-shirts and posters.
My one criticism of these asides is that they are set in a smaller font. Much smaller. As someone who is getting older, my eyeballs would have appreciated a larger font and a different graphic strategy to distinguish the asides.
While Doctorow starts strong with helping me understand copyright in the Internet age, he loses me in the last section of his book. He brings up interesting points, especially about surveillance, but goes nowhere with the point. The book is 162 pages long, so I would think that he had room to be more thorough with his last section. I'm disappointed that he was not.