BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 22 July, 2005, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Digital Citizens: The activist
By Darren Waters
BBC News entertainment reporter

Cory Doctorow
Doctorow writes for the blog Boing Boing

All this week the BBC News website is speaking to people whose creativity has been transformed in the digital age.

From blogging to podcasting, millions of ordinary people are becoming writers, journalists, broadcasters and film-makers thanks to increasingly affordable and accessible tools

Author, blogger and campaigner Cory Doctorow passionately believes the internet has helped unleash a new form of creativity based around collaboration.

He co-wrote an award-winning short story, called Jury service, with a writer in Scotland called Charles Stross.

But the pair never met and instead collaborated via the internet, from start to finish.

"That story is repeated in macrocosm a million times a day on the internet," said the Canada-born and London-based writer.

"There are people who have never met, who do not know each other, may only just pass in the night."

But he says big media companies are trying to stifle the ability to share content in the name of protecting copyright.


Mr Doctorow believes the digital age means it is time to update copyright.

He is a passionate supporter of Creative Commons, a copyright licence for the digital age which lets people clearly state what third parties can and can't do with a creative work.

He has just published his third novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. On the same day it was released in shops, he offered it for download, for free, with no catches, from his website.

Cory Doctorow book. Cover illustration by Dave McKean
You can download Cory Doctorow's book free of charge

Mr Doctorow's stance on creativity and sharing is summed up by a quote by Woody Guthrie which he uses on his website: "Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

People in developing nations can also print their own editions of the book and sell them, because that is the freedom the writer has chosen to given them as part of his copyright licence.

As a member of digital campaigning group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Mr Doctorow is engaged in a "battle along many fronts" with some of the most powerful media companies in the world.

The digital age has become a battleground with the EFF accusing some firms of limiting people's legal right to use their content as they see fit.

The companies that spend millions of pounds to make films, TV programs or albums argue that they have a right to protect their content from being copied and swapped over the internet and have turned to measures like Digital Rights Management to achieve that.


But copy protection technologies such as DRM merely restrict what people can do with music or DVDs or downloaded content, argues Mr Doctorow.

A little bit of copyright goes a long way
Cory Doctorow

"DRM does not work. It does not stop people copying music or films," he said.

DRM is found in digital music such as iTunes songs, which Apple says protects music from being copied. But it also means iTunes songs cannot be played on any MP3 player, other than an iPod, and the songs can only be played on up to four other computers.

It also means, for example, that digital downloads cannot be sold on, in the way that a DVD or CD can be sold.

"But we get that as part of copyright - we are allowed to do stuff to media after we have bought it," said Mr Doctorow.

Mr Doctorow says that companies should instead come up with a business model which embraces copying and says the blanket licensing system for broadcasting music on the radio is a good example.


"Why can't net users buy a blanket licence? Why can't I play 3 or 5 a month - the pro-rata equivalent of what a club owner would pay - for me to lawfully to share all the music I have?"

The battle between the EFF and its supporters and media companies has shifted from the debate about locks on content, to attempts to put locks inside the technologies which receive or share that content.

In the US recently the EFF blocked an attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to force manufacturers to insert "content protection" in all future digital TV tuners after a fight in the courts.

"A little bit of copyright goes a long way. The idea that copyright should control how technology works rather than technology setting how copyright works is a really fundamentally broken one," said Mr Doctorow.

"The thing that's really different in the digital world is not that copyright is rupturing under the onslaught of new technology. It's that we are treating that like it's a crisis.

"Instead of that, it's just another signal that it's time to update copyright."

On Saturday, we will round-up the best of your blogs, podcasts and photos you have told us about.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific