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How to save the CBC, making it a global online participatory leader



In my latest Guardian column, What Canada's national public broadcaster could learn from the BBC, I look at the punishing cuts to the CBC, and how a shelved (but visionary) BBC plan to field a "creative archive" of shareable and remixable content could help the network lead the country into a networked, participatory future.

The CBC, at least, has only limited delusions about the importance of commercialising its archives, especially when that comes at the expense of access to the archives for Canadians. Canada is a young nation, and the CBC has been there with Canadians for about half of the country's short life. The contents of the CBC's archives are even more central to the identity of Canadians that the BBC's is to Britons.

If the CBC is to be cut and remade as a digital-first public service entity, then a Canadian Creative Archive could be one way for it to salvage some joy from its misery. There's nothing more "digital first" than ensuring that the most common online activities – copying, sharing, and remixing – are built into the nation's digital heritage.

What's more, the CBC's situation is by no means unique. In an era of austerity, massive wealth inequality, industrial-scale tax-evasion and totalising market orthodoxy, there's hardly a public broadcaster anywhere in the world that isn't facing brutal cuts that go to the bone and beyond.

All of these broadcasters have something in common: they produced their massive archives at public expense, for the public's benefit, and have made only limited progress in giving the public online access to those treasures.

What Canada's national public broadcaster could learn from the BBC

OECD predicts collapse of capitalism


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- a pro-establishment, rock-ribbed bastion of pro-market thinking -- has released a report predicting a collapse in global economic growth rates, a rise in feudal wealth disparity, collapsing tax revenue and huge, migrating bands of migrant laborers roaming from country to country, seeking crumbs of work. They proscribe "flexible" workforces, austerity, and mass privatization.

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Coming to SLC and PDX


I'm heading to Salt Lake City this week for Westercon, followed by an appearance at the SLC Library on Monday. Next week, I'll be in PDX for three library gigs: Beaverton, Tigard, and Hillsboro. See you there!

Podcast: How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage

Here's a reading (MP3) of my latest Guardian column, How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage, which examines how Hachette's insistence on DRM for their ebooks has taken away all their negotiating leverage with Amazon, resulting in Amazon pulling Hachette's books from its catalog in the course of a dispute over discounting:

Under US law (the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its global counterparts (such as the EUCD), only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon's DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you're Amazon. So while it's technical child's play to release a Hachette app that converts your Kindle library to work with Apple's Ibooks or Google's Play Store, such a move is illegal.

It is an own-goal masterstroke. It is precisely because Hachette has been so successful in selling its ebooks through Amazon that it can't afford to walk away from the retailer. By allowing Amazon to put a lock on its products whose key only Amazon possessed, Hachette has allowed Amazon to utterly usurp its relationship with its customers. The law of DRM means that neither the writer who created a book, nor the publisher who invested in it, gets to control its digital destiny: the lion's share of copyright control goes to the ebook retailer whose sole contribution to the book was running it through a formatting script that locked it up with Amazon's DRM.

The more books Hachette sold with Amazon DRM, the more its customers would have to give up to follow it to a competing store.

MP3

My talk at the Edinburgh Publishing Conference

Here's my talk at last week's Edinburgh Publishing Conference, called "Information Doesn't Want to Be Free."

How Hachette made the rope that Amazon is hanging it with


In my latest Guardian column, "How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage," I discuss the petard that the French publishing giant Hachette is being hoisted upon by Amazon. Hachette insisted that Amazon sell its books with "Digital Rights Management" that only Amazon is allowed to remove, and now Hachette can't afford to pull its books from Amazon, because its customers can only read their books with Amazon's technology. So now, Hachette has reduced itself to a commodity supplier to Amazon, and has frittered away all its market power. The other four major publishers are headed into the same place with Amazon, and unless they dump DRM quick, they're going to suffer the same fate.

Under US law (the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its global counterparts (such as the EUCD), only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon's DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you're Amazon. So while it's technical child's play to release a Hachette app that converts your Kindle library to work with Apple's Ibooks or Google's Play Store, such a move is illegal.

It is an own-goal masterstroke. It is precisely because Hachette has been so successful in selling its ebooks through Amazon that it can't afford to walk away from the retailer. By allowing Amazon to put a lock on its products whose key only Amazon possessed, Hachette has allowed Amazon to utterly usurp its relationship with its customers. The law of DRM means that neither the writer who created a book, nor the publisher who invested in it, gets to control its digital destiny: the lion's share of copyright control goes to the ebook retailer whose sole contribution to the book was running it through a formatting script that locked it up with Amazon's DRM.

The more books Hachette sold with Amazon DRM, the more its customers would have to give up to follow it to a competing store.

How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage

(Image: Noose, Old Austin County Jail, Bellville, Texas 0130101348BW, Patrick Feller, CC-BY)

My Tedxoxbridge talk: How to break the Internet

I gave a talk last month in Cambridge at the Tedxoxbridge event called How to break the Internet, about how urgent it is that the Internet is fundamentally broken, and why we should be hopeful that we can fix it.

Homeland shortlisted for the Sunburst Award


I'm honoured and delighted to learn that my novel Homeland has been shortlisted for Canada's Sunburst Award, a juried prize for excellence in speculative fiction. I've won the Sunburst twice before, and this is one of my proudest accomplishments; I'm indebted to the jury for their kindness this year. The other nominees are a very good slate indeed -- including Nalo Hopkinson's Sister Mine and Charles de Lint's The Cats of Tanglewood Forest.

Podcast: News from the future for Wired UK


Here's a reading (MP3) of a short story I wrote for the July, 2014 issue of Wired UK in the form of a news dispatch from the year 2024 -- specifically, a parliamentary sketch from a raucous Prime Minister's Question Time where a desperate issue of computer security rears its head:

Quick: what do all of these have in common: your gran's cochlear implant, the Whatsapp stack, the Zipcar by your flat, the Co-Op's 3D printing kiosk, a Boots dispensary, your Virgin thermostat, a set of Tata artificial legs, and cheap heads-up goggles that come free with a Mister Men game?

If you're stumped, you're not alone. But Prime Minister Lane Fox had no trouble drawing a line around them today during PMQs in a moment that blindsided the Lab-Con coalition leader Jon Cruddas, who'd asked about the Princess Sophia hacking affair. Seasoned Whitehall watchers might reasonably have expected the PM to be defensive, after a group of still-anonymous hackers captured video, audio and sensitive personal communications by hijacking the Princess's home network. The fingerpointing from GCHQ and MI6 has been good for headlines, and no one would have been surprised to hear the PM give the security services a bollocking, in Westminster's age-old tradition of blame-passing.

Nothing of the sort. Though the PM leaned heavily on her cane as she rose, she seemed to double in stature as she spoke, eyes glinting and her free hand thumping the Dispatch Box: "The Princess Sophia affair is the latest installment in a decades-old policy failure that weakened the security of computer users to the benefit of powerful corporations and our security services. This policy, the so-called 'anti-circumvention' rules, have no place in an information society.

MP3

Interviewing Leila Johnstone about Hack Circus


My latest Guardian column is an interview with Leila Johnston about her Hack Circus project, which includes a conference, a podcast and a print magazine, all with a nearly indefinable ethic of independence and art for its own sake.

The opposite of useful is not always useless, as such. The opposite of reportage is not always silliness, and the opposite of consumer messaging is not always fooling around. Playboy is one of the most successful media enterprises of all time, so presumably people don't want entertainment for functional reasons. Perhaps fooling around can be a very effective business model.

The events are fun, but they are reality-distorting rather than "comedy". They are funny because the clever, strange people who like Hack Circus are naturally funny and have done such wonderfully surprising things, not because they've written a routine. I don't want to do a science comedy night for sceptics and atheists – there's plenty of that around. I'm far more interested in, and identify far more strongly with, the credulous than the sceptical, and I'm consciously working against the resistance to imagination that scepticism presents.

Leila Johnston: 'Digital culture has created a new outsider'

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