Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free

By Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow’s Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free is a book that’s very clear about what it is and what it isn’t. What it is, is a toolkit of information for anyone with a stake in making a “creative wage” out of our digital culture. What this mainly comes down to is a discussion of some of the ramifications of “copyfight”: the ongoing series of legal battles over copyright law relating to the Internet – a struggle that Doctorow has been prominently involved in for years.

What the book isn’t is a look into the future. Doctorow, who is an SF author, is first to admit that SF writers always get the future wrong. Everybody gets the future wrong. And so his book promises to “equip you with the critical skills required to have a non-zero chance of making a living as an artist today, in the world as it is.”

Doctorow is the ideal person to write such a book. Though he warns us in advance that he may be wrong, he will at least be well informed. And so he is, drawing on his experience as a successful Internet artist/entrepreneur as well as copyfight advocate. His arguments are entertainingly presented, forcefully made, and easy to follow. The book is organized around three basic “laws,” and the toolkit is handily boiled down to three main points at the end.

If there is a caveat to be entered it’s that Doctorow’s prescriptions are so closely tied to what has worked for him. His vision of an optimal state of affairs is attractive. He is against the over-regulation of “the nervous system of the twenty-first century,” and wants to see the arts develop on the Internet in the freest, most diversified way possible.

But would this best of all possible worlds lead to the best set of outcomes for artists? Would it raise all boats, or result in greater inequality? Would it lead to the creation of better, more diverse art, or would it create a global, homogenized mass culture? While Doctorow is persuasive when taking on the current power structure, we need to also be careful about what he’s wishing for.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, November 2014.

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