The Biggest Threat is Obscurity

I went to see Cory Doctorow and others on a panel organised by Free Culture UK last night. The subject was “Open Content” – a moniker given to the concept of digitisable works of either art or craft distributed under an alternative copyright licence (such as Creative Commons). Inevitably, a lot of ground was covered by the speakers, and one of the hottest topics of the evening was the recently-launched BBC’s Open Archive project. I wasn’t actually aware that they’d launched, but it sounds evil.

After the talk was over, I went over to Doctorow and introduced myself. He smiled, but did not offer a handshake. In the tiny pause that always follows an awkward introduction, I took my chance. I was surprised at how fast he hit the ground – nearly bringing down several other people as he did so. Immobilising him after that was easy – I think he’d winded himself as he fell (at least, he wasn’t shouting). Our combined weight was too much for the people trying to pull me off him, and I had quite a bit of time to consolidate the body grip. He smelt of wet leather and shoepolish.

I started chanting the Sony Company Song, trying to punctuate it by shouting a few anti-communist slogans, but they came out more like yelps so I shut up; the effect of the body grip was having enough impact anyway. Somebody kicked my leg but I couldn’t see who. By then there was a lot of chaos in the room, and I started to hear Doctorow shouting.

By the time the police arrived I was already on my feet, cutting an easy swathe through the assembled Free Culture Geeks to the door (although that Rufus Pollock is pretty scary when he’s angry). I’m writing this on my solicitor’s laptop as he thought I’d better not go home until the drugs wear off.


Whu – who? What was that? Have I gone mad? Well, yes. For some reason during the discussion, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that if I worked for SonyBMG, Warner Bros, or any large media publisher, I’d be seeing Cory Doctorow as my nemesis. He makes far too much sense to be allowed to live without receiving a good kicking.

Ideas and facts came at us like a Stalin organ on speed, but one of them stuck in my mind: artists have far more to fear from obscurity than they do from piracy. If only 1 out of 100 people that download your book for free decide to pay for it (and they will you know), that makes good business sense. Keeping your content closed ensures that those who don’t will make money, not you. That’s how Cory and his publisher make money, and that’s how the Arctic Monkeys have done it as well (even though the purists point out that it wasn’t the “right way”.) The premise of the evening was that we’re seeing a revolution as potentially big as the green movement. Protecting the ecology of the public domain means nothing less than protecting the freedom of mankind to innovate, create and share from the forces of mediocrity, destruction and silence.

Go, commies, go!