Episode 24: Cory Doctorow Sews up the Analog Hole


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Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) is a essayist, novelist, blogger, and co-editor of BoingBoing,
and he is exhauasting. The man is a production machine, churning out
excellent book after excellent book as if writing were a job instead of
something to agonize and procrastinate over. As of this writing, his
latest books are Homeland and Pirate Cinema, and, with Charlie Stross, he wrote Rapture of the Nerds.
Cory has also long been an advocate for the personal ownership of
culture, demanding corporations and governments keep their hands off
what we make and their noses out of our individual use and modification
of media and hardware. To that end, he has fought endless wars against
restrictive legislation.

Photo by Jonathan Worth, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

Notes from the show

Cory worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit that defends individual rights and freedoms. Cory was part of the Humble Ebook Bundle,
which put together several science fiction and fantasy books into a
single name-your-price bundle in which the buyer chose how much of their
payment went to authors and how much to three charities. Amazon has a
price-matching arrangement when authors pick a 70%-royalty arrangement
that allows them to match the lowest ebook price anywhere on the Net for any book they sell for Kindle.

BookScan tracks retail sales
through integration with point-of-sale and online sales systems. My
father and I run Books & Writers, a book-rank tracking service.
Amazon has provided BookScan data to authors who register with them. At
least one book distributor in 1996 was relying on IBM’s PROFS on a mainframe.

Cory documented in painstaking detail how his With a Little Help story collection was funded and produced. Artist friends created a set of four covers for print editions so that one could choose among them. The book was designed by John D. Berry, a friend of mine and one of the world’s best typographers. (His wife is Eileen Gunn, a science-friend and incubator of science-fiction writers.)

There’s a difference between the barter economy and the gift economy, and Cory explains the distinction. Andy Baio, who is part of the life’s blood of creativity on the Internet, released Kind of Bloop,
a collection of 8-bit music, that had an homage of a famous Miles Davis
photo as part of the cover. Despite it rather obviously being precisely
within the reasonable confines of transformative work, it would have
required exensive litigation. Andy settled to avoid destroying his family finances.

The partly crowdfunded movie Stripped had a second round of money raising to cover the clearance rights
for some of the copyrighted material the filmmakers wanted to include.
Cory pointed out that the Stanford Center for Internet and Society can
help a filmmaker who wants to assert fair-use rights over material
obtain the errors and omissions insurance required to have a film shown
in a theater and released in other ways.

Ursula K. LeGuin likely wouldn’t have a found a publisher who would
have been willing to let her quote from The Beatles’ “A Little Help from
My Friends” today, a critical component of her The Lathe of Heaven.
In fact, the 1980 PBS movie of the book couldn’t be re-released for
many years because of both negotiating with the original cast and crew,
and obtaining rights. The Beatles’ original version of the song was replaced with a cover in the re-release. (Cory notes that LeGuin doesn’t like fair use of her own work.)

Aereo is a Barry Diller-controlled
company that is selling access to tiny HDTV antennas over the Internet
to skirt rules about re-broadcasting. It’s clever. So clever that a
dissenting judge in an appeals panel was rather unhappy about it. Fox filed takedown notices under the DMCA for Cory’s book Homeland on various sites asserting it was the rightsholder, as opposed to being the rightsholder for its TV series Homeland.

Jaron Lanier once told tales of virtual-reality goggles and the future. He now tells different stories. The Infocom Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) game may still be played. The Incomparable podcast did an episode on Infocom games.

Sony once infected computers with a rootkit to manage copy protection for its music CDs. The software hid itself and degraded Windows, and it took a long while for Sony to tell the truth and make amends. Defibrillators can be easily hacked. The Analog Reconversion Discussion Group was formed to plug the “analog hole,” which was a way to copy digital playback through an analog output.

Scott Turow wrote a spectacularly uninformed and self-serving Op-Ed in the New York Times
that conflated a number of different factors, mostly specious and
relatively absurd, about how authors were getting a squeeze on
royalties. The issue at hand was the Supreme Court allowing the
importation of foreign editions of books. Such editions may be sold
cheaply abroad, but also are often made more cheaply and thus not as
appealing to American buyers. Turow is head of the Author’s Guild,
which purports to speak for all authors, but only a tiny number of
writers belong relative to all published authors. (I used to.)

The Registrar of Copyrights may approve temporary and limited exemptions to the DMCA, but these are reviewed every three years. RealDVD got pulled from the market by RealNetworks in order to avoid disturbing studio partners. Kaleidescape makes servers that let users rip CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray and then space shift them around a house.

“No, that’s just perfectly normal paranoia, everyone in the universe has that.” Many people who are competent suffer from Imposter Syndrome. A comic came out after Cory and I spoke about the day jobs of poets.