Science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger Cory Doctorow spoke at the New America Foundation on Tuesday about his thoughts on productivity, creativity and parenting in the 21st century. The meeting framed copyright policy against broader concerns about its impact on civil liberties and human rights.
Doctorow touched on freedom of expression, and the pitfalls of upholding copyright and intellectual property laws while respecting citizens’ rights. He pointed out that “information doesn’t want to be free, people do”.
There is an inherent tension between upholding copyright law and resisting the need to implement censorship and surveillance mechanisms. Doctorow highlighted the fact that it is hard to restrict “general purpose” technologies, giving the whimsical example of trying to create a car wheel that could be used for all outings, except to escape from bank robberies. When addressing multi-use technologies, policies meant to prevent copyright infringement can be blunt tools of enforcement.
“We don’t know how to create a policy that allows for expeditious take down from YouTube of copyrighted material that doesn’t fight people in the Middle East who are participating in the Arab Spring who want to upload their videos in an expeditious way without having it taken down by false flag operations, for example.”
Recently the effect of copyright laws on free expression has been heavily debated in the US during discussions regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act. Doctorow said:
“One of my great frustrations in fights about things like SOPA…are all the people who should be on the other side of the SOPA in fighting the bill, but instead join with the forces endorsing it like the FLCIO. I have a friend who says ‘Just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they are on your side.”
Rachel Greenspan is Index on Censorship’s US editor