Science Fiction, Copyright, Natural Law, and You

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Lisa Rein

Lisa Rein
Aug. 31, 2001 08:52 AM

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Science Fiction Writer and OpenCola founder Cory Doctorow has written an editorial about how peer-to-peer applications and the realities of cryptography will inevitably transform the role of Copyright in the new millennium. (The piece was published as a MiCro Editorial in Issue #17 of the Made In Canada newsletter.)

Here are some highlights:

"The problem lies in the assumption that the cryptography used to protect the ebooks (or emusic, or emovies, or ewhatever) can be relied upon. There are two things I believe to be true about cryptosystems. The first is that the only way to find out if a cryptosystem is really secure is to tell other people how it works and wait until someone comes up with a means of breaking it. The second is that, eventually, all systems are broken."
"Maintaining the security of publicly distributed ciphertexts of copyrighted works is a fool's errand. Laws that try to do it end up bent and schizoid. The US's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), for example, makes it illegal to publicly discuss the means by which a copy- protection scheme might be compromised, to circulate tools for this purpose, or to link to places where people are doing these things."
"This is meant to secure our works -- but it has the opposite effect. When our publishers' encryption schemes and their flaws remain secret, it means that we're entirely dependent on the word of our publishers' technologists when it comes to evaluating the security of the locks they intend to place on our works."
"We can't depend on the law to keep cryptosystems from being compromised. Such laws only serve to permit bad cryptosystems from being undiscovered by the people who rely on them most: artists and their publishers."
"Nor can we pretend that electronic circulation of our work can be prevented. Our readers are demanding it, and voting with their scanners. "
"How, then, do we earn our living off of our work? When publishing inevitably includes an electronic edition, when unprotected copies of our work circulate freely, how do we compel readers to pay for our time and so keep a roof over our heads? There are a couple possibilities..."
"Meanwhile, we need to take a stand. Researchers are being jailed, professors are being sued, and millions of dollars are being funneled from technology companies into publishing companies in the form of legal settlements -- all on *our* behalf. We need to speak up for ourselves, whenever and however we can, speak up in favor of the future." - Cory Doctorow


Lisa Rein is a co-founder of Creative Commons, a video blogger at On Lisa Rein's Radar, and a singer-songwriter-musican at