Posted by: GravatarWon'tDeleteMyAccount | September 14, 2008

Cory Doctorow: Content

This is the first non-fiction book I’m reviewing on here, and it’s a trial. I wasn’t planning on doing non-fiction, but when this one came up I just had to (and no, it’s not due to an unhealthy obsession with Cory Doctorow, I promise ^__^). This is a blog about Creative Commons licensed materials, and this is a CC-licensed book that explains, in no uncertain terms, exactly why CC materials are so brilliant in today’s copyright-obsessed world. What’s more, it does it in a way that is at once both in-depth and easy to understand. So we’ll see how it goes.

Content is a collection of talks and articles by Doctorow given and published between September 2003 and December 2007, on topics ranging from Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology to the future of e-books to the future of the human race.

Given as I am to this slight preoccupation (obsession) with copyright and the state of information technologies, I often find myself trying to explain to other people why these topics are so important. Most of the time I find myself failing miserably. More often than not, I’m greeted with blank stares communicating either a complete lack of interest or a desperate need to get. away.

Now I can just give them this book.

In this collection Doctorow has managed to make complicated issues simple, conversational, and funny. This is not an easy task.

Beginning with an outstanding foreword by John Perry Barlow, former Grateful Dead lyricist and EFF co-founder (author of the 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace), Content takes its readers on an amusing (and at times irreverent) jaunt through the major issues affecting us — users of technology — today. In essays ranging in length from a couple to a couple dozen pages, he explains (in a talk originally given to Micros0ft’s Research Group!) why DRM will never work, why giving away free e-books is good for authors, why we’ll never live in a meta-data utopia, and why copyright is broken (and how to fix it).

One of my favourites is a talk entitled “Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books,” in which he explains why e-books will never replace paper books, and why they’re still great: “the reasons to love ebooks have precious little to do with the reasons to love paper books,” he writes. They have different uses, different niches, and different reasons for being. Another jewel is the interview with Ray Kurzweil about the future of the human race.

Now, being a collection of writings on very interrelated topics, there will be passages that you feel as though you’ve read before. More so if, like me, you sit and read this book over the course of two days. Don’t do that. Get a copy, be it electronic or paper, and read an essay at a time. Put it down and wander off in between. Go circumvent some DRM tech to put a song onto your iPod, or research your local politicians’ stances on copyright policy, then come back to the book. Read it for entertainment, and you’ll come away having learned an awful lot.

Maybe then I won’t seem so crazy next time you ask me why I’m writing this blog.


Cory Doctorow regularly posts from a hot air balloon to while wearing a cape and goggles. Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future is available under a Creative Commons U.S. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license in .pdf form from his website, and on dead tree from online retailers like The cover (shown above) is copyright 2008 Ann Monn.

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