Information doesn’t want anything. Creators want to create. Business people want to make money. Investors want high profits…. People can want things. Information can’t, but the question of who controls information is really what this book is about. Doctorow’s main point is that our current copyright system wrests control away from creators of books and music and gives it to businesses that see them as marketable assets rather than as works of art. This, he says, is not only unfair to the artists but it also stifles creativity. It unnecessarily limits the number of artistic works being created and the audiences that might appreciate them. The copyright system, ideas of fair use, licensing, and information sharing need to be reexamined. In our age of computer technology, the attempt to retain tight control of intellectual property is counter productive…and ultimately futile.
His argument brought to mind the recent copyright infringement lawsuit that CBS and Paramount brought against Axanar, the latest of a long string of fan-produced Star Trek films. Although the first Trek fan films were amateurish, they’ve been getting better as technology improves. But they don’t make a profit. They aren’t intended to. Actually, the creators spend their own money, along with that of contributors, to make them, and they are free to watch on YouTube and other places. Profit is not the goal. Fans produce them as an expression of admiration for Star Trek. You would think the corporate owners of the franchise would welcome fan films because they extend the brand and expand the audience for the franchise. The corporations that ‘own’ Star Trek apparently don’t agree. What I suspect they’re worried about is that Axanar, a fan film with a budget of only a million dollars, might be better than their next Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, which has a budget of $150 million. I can’t really know what their motivations are, of course, but they’re trying to kill an artistic labor of love that, since it’s not trying to make money, doesn’t seem to me to be infringing on the corporation’s ‘property’.
I can’t say I disagree with Doctorow’s insights. He makes several good points, but the book tends to ramble. Better organization would have made his argument clearer. Fortunately, they were summarized for him in the excellent forwards written by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.