Earlier this week, novelist and copyright activist Cory Doctorow was interviewed on the Canadian TV show The Agenda about Aaron Swartz, hacktivism, piracy and copyright. The whole interview is worth watching (this is part 2, part 1 can be seen here) but Doctorow’s inspired elocution on art, literature, freedom and sharing (appx 20:30-23:30) was worth transcribing, and is copied below for those who don’t wish to watch the whole video.
SP: Some people have portrayed [the public discourse over SOPA] as “Artists vs. Pirates.” Do you like that characterization of this?
CD: No, I don’t think so. Well first of all, I’ve never met an artist that didn’t have a huge library of things that they’d copied. I mean, to be an artist is to copy everything… You remember Lily Allen spoke out against music downloading, and then it emerged that she had on her website mix-tapes she’d made for people to download, for the public to download, where she hadn’t cleared the copyrights. Why did she have that music available? Because the way that you become a musician is by using other people’s music. I mean, think about it. Musicians commercially perform each other’s compositions; they learn on each other’s compositions, they duplicate each other’s compositions. It is the norm in music. Brahms’s First was called Beethoven’s Tenth, right? Every jazz solo you’ve ever heard includes two or three bars of a song that is familiar to you, and we all say that that’s right and proper. But as soon as you use a computer to sample one note, you’ve got a court coming after you… When the people who wrote the law that is to their advantage now did it in the last century, that was legitimate taking. When you do it with the art that they made, that’s stealing. And I think that it’s wrong. I mean, we all take in order to make art; there is no art that is made out of the holus bolus. And every person who makes art thinks that the part that they made is a precious snowflake, and that the stuff that they borrowed is mere plumbing. And that’s true. But the thing that someone makes out of my work will treat my precious snowflake as mere plumbing. When Edgar Allen Poe invented the detective story, that was a precious snowflake. But it would be insane to say that everyone who wrote a detective story should be paying royalties to Poe’s descendants. Because it is now plumbing. It is both of those things at the same time. So, yes, people want to download and people want to do all kinds of other things, but among the greatest downloaders, among the most prolific downloaders, the prolific copiers, are artists. But more importantly, you know, you look at the things that Aaron [Swartz] has done, you look at the fights that we’ve all gotten into about copyright and so on, and you’ll hear people on the other side say ridiculous things like, “Oh, that’s the ‘information wants to be free’ crowd.” I’ve never known a single person with a dog in this fight because information wants to be free. I had a long, compassionate, heart-to-heart with information and it confessed to me that the only thing it wants from any of us is for us to stop anthropomorphizing it. Because information doesn’t want a damn thing, but people want to be free. And you make people freer when you don’t add surveillance and censorship to the Internet in the name of stopping copying, which won’t work anyway. You make people freer when they know what the law is. You make people freer when they know what science says. You make people freer when they’re free to congregate, when they’re free to organize together; when the truth of their world, their maps, their geographic data, is available to them freely and without let. That makes people freer. Who cares about information?