Some months ago Neil Gaiman recommended an offer on Humble Bundle, a platform that became famous for selling games by asking for money. A pay-what-you-want system that seems to work out. This offer contained some comic books that were banned and additionally the audio book of Cory Doctorow’s Information doesn’t want to be free. I hope he will forgive me but I never heard about him or his book. The introduction by Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer & Wil Wheaton made me curious beyond words and I immediately tried to get my hands on the book.
This book is about Information and Media in the digital age and I can say for myself it astonished me. It is one of those books you want to carry around each day you leave the house and read some chapters again, just in case you missed something.
Cory Doctorw defines three laws of the dawning digital age.
#1. Any Time Someone Puts a Lock on Something That Belongs to You and Won’t Give You the Key, That Lock Isn’t There for Your Benefit
#2. Fame Won’t Make You Rich, But You Can’t Get Paid Without It
#3. Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, People Do
Within each chapter he describes how he came to the conclusion of the laws and how the system nowadays works. Some years ago I read the book “No Copy” which more or less describes the same issues and became a reference when it comes to usage of digital media.
Let’s stay there for a while – it doesn’t matter which industry, which company you take – each and everyone fears that the product they sell can be copied and distributed without any money is going into their pockets. Funny thing for me is that they still seem to earn enough money, a lot of cash landing in their pockets and the artists are getting less each time.
My first contact with this was with the gaming industry and after reading No Copy I remembered it well. I grew up in a very small town in Austria, and somewhere in the 90s great games appeared on the screen, games like “The Secret of Monkey Island” by LucasGames. Believe me when I tell you that nearly no info and no advertisement reached me via the usual channels but a copy. A copy consisting of some floppy disks, containing the game, even the copy-protection and the security check at the beginning of the game was hacked. In a time far before the internet was dominating the market you were able to get copies of any game easily. Later on I bought the Special Edition, even the ones that were available for tablets. Why? Because it was and still is a great game. Many years later a game appeared I immediately wanted to play, the game “Half-Life” by Valve. I bought it and loved it, played it even three times – yeah, the whole run. The fun part was that this one had a copy-protection that was new for many hackers. During the production of the CD they burnt the original disc at one specific point, a point where no data was stored. When you installed the game the software on your pc was checking if this point exists. If that was the case then it was fine. I still find that funny because it took the hacker scene quite some time to find that out and it shows how creative people can get. In the end everyone who wanted was able to play, especially because Valve opened an online shop and included the game in the upcoming sequels as a bonus, even in graphical enhanced versions.
Back to Cory Doctorow and his laws, it gets quite clear that the situation we are facing nowadays is hardly comparable to what we faced so far. The internet of all things makes it more and more easier for artists, authors, journalists to present their works and like Cory Doctorow I believe in a world where not only some companies dominate the market but hundreds of thousands. On the other hand distributing things to the audience apart from the internet is still difficult and hard work for a one-man-show. If you don’t beleive me in this take the last few books of Amanda Palmer and Felicia Day and read their chapters when they distributed their single-produced work to the people. Especially Felicias description of how she put each and every produced DVD, artwork from her beloved show “The Guild” into a plastic envelope brings out some tears. Imagine the hours she must have spent and yes, this sometimes is the work that great companies are doing and that’s what they are good for. Maybe there is another way of finding a compromise.
In the end every artist should have the right on his product and distributing it to the people should be easy and copying it for friends. Like a music mix tape you gave to your beloved one, just as a gesture.
On the other hand it people should be able to live via their art. There are so many talented and wonderful artists who really struggle each day. Not because their art is bad but it’s different, not easy to like and sometimes way ahead of it’s time. Later one being the fate of many famous artists.
There must be another way. I surely do hope so.
T H I N K . G L O B A L . A C T . L O C A L .
Is something that comes into my mind when I think about it. Therefore I love to support people who are close to me. Not only as friends but also in case of distance. Therefore you have the opportunity to build a bond with the artist, wether them being a painter, musician or writer. It doesn’t matter. Maybe that works out for the future, in combination with the digital age? Could be a functioning couple … for a start.