Cory Doctorow spoke to a packed house at ACMI in Melbourne tonight on the evils of DRM. He was erudite, eloquent and sardonic and didn't let us down. I went out for drinks with a few fellow geeks afterwards and could tell that Cory's talk made a mark, especially on the folks who hadn't heard, before tonight, of the evils of Sony's root kit or DVD Bluray.
The talk seemed to be entitled "Technology Giveth and Technology Taketh Away". I took copious notes on my Pocket PC, which I would share with you here, except about two-thirds of the way through the talk my trusty Pocket PC decided, once again, to hard reset itself, and I of course lost everything. Good to see that Apple aren't the only company that make consumer electronic devices which suck.
Fortunately, I noticed a guy sitting in front of me was recording the talk on his PDA (something I didn't even think to do... how long have I been podcasting?) and I flipped him by business card and asked him to please flip me a copy of the recording.
Here's some key points from Cory's talk that I can recall off the top of my head...
- when Marconi et al invented radio and the crazy "free" radio business model (which he compared to the craziest kind of dot com snake oil model ever) started to take hold, all of the vaudeville performers who made their living out of performing music to live audiences said "how dare you mess with my business model?" and cried foul. The radio folks said "tough titties" (I'm paraphrasing here) and lots of vaudevillians went broke. Fast forward to 2006 - technology is eradicating the business models of the companies that arose during that period and they are now saying "how dare you mess with my business model?" - technology giveth and technology taketh away
- Cory's novels, which he provides for free on the net under Creative Commons on the day they hit the stores, have been downloaded over 650,000 times. But he made the point that an author's biggest enemy isn't piracy - it is obscurity. He says that when most people don't buy a copy his book in a store it isn't because someone had given them a free copy. It's because they have never heard of him.
- Talking about China and copyright, he made the point that the USA, in the early days after kicking out the British, didn't observe British copyrights either. He said they didn't care that Charles Dickens' work was being given away in New York until Mark Twain's work was being given away in London. The point being that the USA only started to care about copyright from other countries when they became a net exporter of copyright. He believes the same thing will hold true with China.
- He had a bunch of points about how to tell if your business model is ready for the internet era. If your model requires criminalizing all of your customers - then your model isn't ready (eg the RIAA). If your model requires stopping science (eg laws preventing people from distributing DRM hacks), then your model isn't ready. Did you know that if you broke up all of the lawsuits that the RIAA has brought against "pirates" in the US into individual cases (instead of class actions against indiscriminate groups of people), then they would account for 1 in 50 lawsuits last year???
- And the basic point, of course, is that DRM is stupid, expensive, and wrong.
Here's a point to think about - sharing stories and songs from person to person isn't called theft or piracy - it's called 'culture'.