Cory Doctorow on copyright and the coming war on general-purpose computing

Last month, Cory Doctorow gave a keynote speech to the Chaos Computer Congress. It turned up online but I have to admit to not having watched it as yet. Handily, though, the text of the speech has been posted on Boing Boing and he makes a strong case.

The TL;DR version is that legislators keep on reaching for regulation that won’t work to solve problems they don’t understand. This is happening now with copyright (the US SOPA legislation being the currently most obvious example), but will continue to happen – and probably increasingly so – as technology progresses.

If we want to be able to own and trust our devices – from the MP3 players we listen to to the cars we drive – the instinct to regulate needs to be stopped. Now.

5 thoughts on “Cory Doctorow on copyright and the coming war on general-purpose computing

  1. Here’s the vid in case you need the link.

    It’s good and certainly worth watching. Aside from SOPA there’s a general trend that Doctorow only touches on that I think is also very important: walled gardens and the “gadgetisation” of computers. Both of these (most obvious in the Apple product lines) threaten our general ability to do what we want with our kit. I think that message got a little lost in the rest of his speech.

    Also on SOPA there’s been some research into US “mainstream” coverage of the bill. Tech press? Loads of articles. Mainstream? Nothing. I think the count is 1 article, early in the bill’s life in the NYT. I’ll see if I can dredge out the article for you.

    PS. I know that gadgetisation isn’t a real word but I couldn’t think of a better one.


  2. Thanks for the link, Gav. I do keep meaning to watch this but its length means that I have to find a distraction-(semi)-free hour to sit in front of YouTube. I’ve seen some videos of Doctorow speaking elsewhere, though, and he is good and I can well believe that this one is well worth seeing.

    On the subject of gadgetisation (it may not be a real work, it is a good one), Jonathan Zittrain covered this in The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it. You can download the PDF version for free from and it’s certainly a thought-provoking read. I do worry that we, as a society, are increasingly willing to abandon the powerful and flexible general purpose devices that we currently own with deliberately locked down devices that – for intents and purposes – we rent and over which we have no control. Apple are the most obvious case here, but they are not the only one.

    I can well believe your comment about the US mainstream media not picking this up as well. It is all over the (UK and US based) tech press that I have seen, but I don’t recall seeing any mention of it on any general news source. I think the problem here is the same as the one with most of the politicians passing legislation like this – most journalists simply don’t understand the technology and can’t comprehend the impact of what is being proposed.


  3. Which sidebar are you referring to? I see one from Rory Cellan-Jones on how to get around the blackout and another one providing a very brief explanation of SOPA and PIPA


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