images.jpegThat is the title of a speech on copyright he gave at the National Reading Summit. Jade Colbert transcribed the speech and it is available here. From the beginning of the speech:

I’d like to start my talk today with an elegy for the book. The first part of the elegy is called “Pirates.”

There is a group of powerful anti-copyright activists out there who are trying to destroy the book. These pirates would destroy copyright, and they have no respect for our property. They dress up their thievery in high-minded rhetoric about how they are the true defenders and inheritors of creativity, and they have sold this claim around the world to regulators and lawmakers alike. There are members of Parliament and Congress-people who are unduly influenced by them. They say they’re only trying to preserve the way it’s always been. They claim that their radical agenda is somehow conservative. But what they really see is a future in which the electronic culture market grows by leaps and bounds and they get to be at the centre of it. They claim that this is about ethics, but anyone who thinks about it for a minute can see that it’s about profit.

Thanks to Raymond for the link.


  1. This was a brilliant and eloquent speech. Some of the scariest parts are in part 2, about proposed laws for the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA).

    “Three strikes works like this: if anyone you live with is accused of three acts of copyright infringement, without any proof, without any evidence, without a judge, without a jury, without a lawyer, without due process, your Internet connection is taken away and your name is added to a register of people for whom it is illegal to provide Internet access for a period of time. In France, where this law was just passed, it’s a year….

    The third thing ACTA does is it imposes a burden on ISPs to surveil their networks, and to pass surveillance information on to rights holders so that rights holders would now be charged with examining in fine detail without a warrant, without due process, and without particularized suspicion—the hallmarks of liberal democracy—they would be required to surveil everything you did: your communications with your family, your communications with your doctor, your communications with your lawyer, your kids’ schoolwork….

    And finally, there’s this business of what happens at the border. They argued that border guards should have the obligation to check all incoming media to ensure that it doesn’t contain anything that infringes copyright. Laptop searches at the border. It means all that stuff on your laptop—pictures of your kid having a bath, love letters to your wife or husband—all that material to be stickily pawed through by some customs guy at the border.

    When this first emerged, those of us who were critics of this that said, well, this looks like they’re going to have to search your iPod.”

  2. I think Doctorow misstates the purpose of copyright. When you buy a copy, whether paper or electronic, you have certain specific rights but not a blanket right to do whatever you want. You can’t copy it for resale, for example. What you “own” is not the book but the paper (or magnetic medium or whatever). It’s true that with paper, you have certain rights to transfer but those rights are not absolute.

    Like Doctorow, I’ve got a house overflowing with books but unlike Doctorow, I’m trying to downsize them…and think downsizing to electronic media is a great approach.

    Rob Preece

  3. Yes, Doctorow’s rhetoric sometimes goes too far in the direction of free-everything-for-everyone. (Though at least he stops somewhere near the realms of sensibility. Even from where he is, you can barely even see Richard Stallman.)

    But we need that sort of gadfly, because taking extreme positions forces the extremists on the other side toward a more equitable middle ground.

  4. Ah Chris,

    Just have to comment on that logic (even though you probably had half your tongue in cheek – sounds tricky): Taking an extreme position to balance another extreme position just tends to push people to more extreme extremes.

    I’ve noticed on Twitter that the same event seems to get re-tweeted with increasingly strident or lurid taglines as people try to condense the most outrage in to the shortest message.

    So far, what I have read by Mr. Doctorow on the subject of copyright has left me underwhelmed. Maybe I am just not getting past his attempts at satire, but he seems kinda shallow to me.

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