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Book Review: Overclocked by Cory Doctorow (and Fair Use Day)

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on July 11, 2007

Fair Use, Copyright and Digital Rights

There is a grassroots movement to make July 11th an International Fair Use Day where we all celebrate our rights to copy content in a fair manner (i.e.: backing up software/movies, quoting other sources). Copyright laws have reached the point where they stifle innovation and prevent use from standing on the shoulders of giants. Fair use of copyright is very different from piracy; copyright laws should protect the rights of the content creator but also protect the rights of the end user. Fair use is about achieving balance between the two different interests.

Copyright discussion and technology often go hand-in-hand because advances in technology make it easier and easier to cheaply reproduce what was originally hard to reproduce. Striking a balance between producers and consumers is very important. If nothing was profitable then nothing then there would be less innovation, but on the flip side what if producers held complete control over how and when their works could be used? Can you imagine a world where you weren’t legally allowed to re-sell or buy used books, CDs or DVDs? Can you imagine a world without libraries?

drm orwell digital rights management
(photo by jbonnain)

Michael Geist

July 11th is a great choice for the date because it is also the birthday of Canada’s own digital rights super-hero Michael Geist. Happy birthday, Michael. If you aren’t familiar with his work, then I recommend starting with a series of articles called “30 Days of DRM” that are enlightening to say the least. Another Canadian digital rights super-hero is Cory Doctorow, a science-fiction author and co-editor of the famous BoingBoing weblog.

Cory Doctorow

cory doctorow overclock short stories science fiction bookLast night I finished reading Cory Doctorow’s new collection of short stories, Overclocked, and I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I’ve read two of his other books, Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and found them disappointing although full of interesting ideas. Overclocked succeeds where the others failed for me because the short narrative allows for a focus on the ideas without feeling that the characters are neglected.

Common Themes in Overclocked

Cory deals with information warfare, robotic sentience, inequalities between first and third world countries and the next level of copyright infringement – when we have 3d printers that can replicate any goods. So much of our current consumer laws are based on the concept of scarcity. We’ve already entered a post-scarcity economy when it comes to entertainment goods that can be reproduced digitally. 3D printing already exists, what kind of world do we want to live in when anything — even food, clothing and electronics — can be reproduced with minimum cost and effort?

The Stories from Overclocked

All of the short stories in Overclocked are already freely available online from other sources. You can check them out by following these links.

Printcrime – the real outcome of a society where copying has been made illegal.

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth – when a biological agent wipes out humanity the only people left standing are the sysadmins who were protecting the network in clean rooms.

Anda’s Game – a young girl learns about goldfarming and world wide inequality thanks to World of Warcraft.

I, Robot – Asimov meets Orwell in a mash-up of 1984 and I, Robot where government controlled restrictions on technology have created wars with countries that don’t follow the same restrictions.

I, Row-Boat – a sentient row boat with free will explores the nature of consciousness in a post-human society.

After the Siege – A city goes from utopia to a cesspool of human misery when other countries attack them for illegally copying the goods they need to survive.

Related Links

5 Responses

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  1. Jonathan Bailey said, on July 11, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    I hate to post a few corrections. But the right to resell and buy used books as well as the existence of libraries is not based upon fair use. Those are based upon the right of first sale. That can be found in 17 U.S.C. § 109.

    Also, fair use does not protect the right to copy albums among friends (though it might protect mix tapes or CDs in some cases) as it is designed to ensure that the public “is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials forpurposes of commentary and criticism”

    See this link: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter9/index.html

    It does not favor non-transformative reproduction of copyrighted materials that damage the market for a work, regardless of commercial use.

    It does, however, offer us the ability to quote and cite sources for commentary, criticism or parody.

    Regardless, it is a very important right and well worthy of a day of celebration! Thank you for alerting me to this day!

  2. engtech said, on July 11, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for the corrections. I’m in Canada though, and I should have said “fair dealing” instead of “fair use”. I found some info on faircopyright.ca but they don’t really explain in detail what the differences between the two are.

    But that aside, you’re right that the friends and family thing does not apply in US law. I wonder if that’s a Canadian thing (because we’re essentially taxed with the assumption we’re going to copy) or if I’ve let my knowledge become polluted by threads on Slashdot?

    Anyhow, I’ll correct my post.

  3. Jonathan Bailey said, on July 11, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Looks like I sit corrected too. I’m very sorry about my mistake. I just read that the Fair Use Day site was American and made an assumption, that is my mistake.

    I’m very sorry about that.

    Still, the point remains, no matter where you are, fair use and fair dealing are important!

    Regarding the differences between U.S. and Canadian Fair use, if you do find out, let m know. My knowledge of Canadian copyright law is slim but what I do know hasn’t pointed to any drastic differences.

    Other than the fact your entire legal code is much easier to read…

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