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I recently read two books by Cory Doctorow, both of which he freely distributes (plain text, no DRM anywhere) online, and both of which were pretty good. They are realistic Sci-Fi, by which I mean that none of the technology in the books is unbelievable. Eastern Standard Tribe is a book set in the not too distant future in a world of increased globalization and slightly increased technology. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is set a bit further in the future, in an almost utopian society where death and illness have been mostly conquered and the worth of a person is measured by the esteem they garner in others (its called Wuffie).

I originally read both books because the author has a non-traditional viewpoint on copyright issues, and was willing to experiment by freely releasing his novels while also selling "dead tree" versions in book stores. The experiment for him was a success; he sold thousands of copies in the real world, and his books were also able to reach many more people online than they ever would have been able to in bookstores alone. I know that I probably wouldn't have randomly bought either book from a bookstore, but I read them online and am now considering purchasing them for real.

I feel that this is the sort of model that needs to be adopted by people who produce content (literature, music, movies) in the modern world. Piracy will continue despite the best attempts of many smart people. By embracing the Internet as a distribution medium, content producers can reach a greater population (unbounded by geography, financial status or age) and as such have the potential to generate a larger customer base for their work. Sure, many people will consume their work without compensating the artist, but without the Internet, most of those people would not have consumed the work at all. And for most artists, creating the art for the delight of their fans is more important than the money. Similarly, appreciative fans will recognize the importance of compensating the artist for their work and will do so accordingly. If they don't then the artist will assume their art was not accepted and be forced to pursue other work to make ends meet. Supply and demand style.

Cory Doctorow released his book under a Creative Commons licence permitting non-commercial redistribution of his work by any party in any format so long as the original freedoms are unrestricted and he is acknowledged as the author. By not restricting himself (or his publisher - the very progressive TOR books) to be the sole distribution point for his work, he does not have to absorb all of the costs associated with the distribution. However since the licence requires his name as author be preserved, he has the potential to gain customers indirectly. Currently, most artists can not afford the costs associated with content distribution and as such attempt to sign on with the appropriate organization (book publishers, the RIAA, the MPAA). The ensuing oligopoly in each medium is unhealthy for the continued advancement of art since the organizations have the power to enforce what is popular by selectively restricting/promoting the distribution of certain works (for example - why was Britney Spears popular? Because she got air time on the radio because the RIAA felt they could make money off of her. Not because someone felt she made good music). The Internet gives the oppourtunity for an artist to be their own distributer and promoter, and as such eliminates the need for the oligopolists. Costs can come down and art from anywhere in the world can be accessible to all. That seems like a good thing to me.

Ranting is fun, I should do it more often. Just as a counter point to everything I have said, a lot of these ideas depend on the decency of common human beings, something which can be questionable from time to time. Its kinda communist even, and everyone knows that didn't turn out.

Anyway, read Cory Doctorow's books if you like Sci-Fi (or if you don't, they're free remember, you don't have anything to lose) and if you like them, consider buying them. If you arn't interested in owning a "dead tree" edition, he also recommends buying a copy and donating it to a local library or second hand book store.

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